Pupils learn to improve skills, enjoy summer fun Balto. County program targets achievement

August 08, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Chelsie Horseman had never sailed on a boat until this summer. Yesterday, the 9-year-old proudly showed her mother and grandmother how much she had learned at the Renaissance Summer Program, lowering and raising sails like a veteran.

"I liked being in a sailboat, and I learned so much," the Martin Boulevard Elementary School fourth-grader said after graduating from the two-week program sponsored by the Baltimore County school system and the Living Classrooms Foundation. "I wanted to stay three weeks."

As the school system pushes to raise academic achievement at its struggling schools, students from schools with many low-income families worked on skills tested by the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP).

They built and raced their own model paddle boats to learn about average speeds and distances. They studied water quality at the National Aquarium and the Columbus Center. And they walked through U.S. history at Fort McHenry.

"The children learned the kind of skills they need to do well in class and on the MSPAP," said Tammie Sellman, a teacher at Baltimore Highlands Elementary School. "We saw kids getting

excited about learning."

Now in its third year, the Renaissance Summer Program began after the system's Title I Office sought to find a way during the summer to help students who attend Title I schools -- those with the highest proportion of low-income families.

The Living Classrooms Foundation and county educators developed the curriculum together, applying such fun activities as boating and hiking to the core academic subjects of science, mathematics, social studies and language arts.

"It's very exciting to see the children working so hard and having so much fun doing it," said Marie Mayor, coordinator of the system's Office of Title I and Child Care. "The most important thing is that they're bringing what they learned back to their schools."

Three two-week camps

Over the past six weeks, about 750 children from 24 county elementary and middle schools spent two-week periods at the Living Classroom's East Harbor Campus. Two teachers from each school also attended and worked with the students, joining staff hired by the nonprofit educational organization.

"With the teachers participating in the program with the children, they're able to learn, too, and make sure that what is taught here carries over into school," said Carla Yeago, director of foundation land-based programs.

The program was paid for with $296,000 in federal grant money, Mayor said, and federal officials -- including President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore -- have visited.

Yesterday's graduation ceremony gave the children a chance to show their parents and teachers what they learned. Among the items on display were 17 colorful murals that will be rotated through the schools for display during the next school year.

"I didn't know anything about sailing, and I didn't know how to write a vignette," said Brittany Blackmon, 9, who will be a fifth-grader at Winfield Elementary School. "To me, camp is like a fresh start, so when I go back to school I will know many new things."

Results predicted for fall

Tracy Dunheimer, who teaches third grade at Winfield, said she knows that she'll see results when classes resume this month.

"The children have had two weeks of an incredible experiences," Dunheimer said. "They're seeing and learning things that they've never seen before, and it all fits in with what we're teaching in school. You can really see kids get excited about learning."

Students were tested at the beginning and end of the program, and almost all have shown gains in such areas as persuasive writing and graphing, said JoAnna Allen, a Baltimore County teacher conducting an independent evaluation of the program.

For parents, the results have been clear, too. They say their chil- dren are coming home each night enthusiastic about learning.

"For one two-week period, I didn't have to ask my son what he learned that day," said Jet Reid, a county high school assistant principal whose son Michael will be a fifth-grader at Owings Mills Elementary School. "He came home every night willing to share and share and share and share."

Pub Date: 8/08/98

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