Old school bus will take classes to poor in Annapolis

Children's museum works with housing authority

May 18, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Since 1994, the Chesapeake Children's Museum has taught Annapolis youths about kite-making, science experiments and the solar system.

About a year ago, museum officials realized a problem: The classes weren't reaching all Annapolis children equally. Young people in public housing communities weren't signing up.

"The kids in these communities can't get to us because they don't have transportation or the parents may not be able to get the kids out of the house," said Denise O'Neill, chairwoman for grants and development at the museum on Forest Drive.

Starting this summer, that might not matter. With an $86,000 grant from the Annapolis Housing Authority, O'Neill and museum Executive Director Debbie Wood are retrofitting a 37-foot school bus as a traveling museum.

When it's finished -- by July, they hope -- the bus will feature a science and math area with a computer, rotating animal exhibits from turtles to fish, a stage for children to perform miniplays and an area for environmental classes on topics such as the Chesapeake Bay and recycling. Tutors on the bus also will teach doll-making, photography, computer art and music from other cultures.

The bus will go to Annapolis' nine public housing communities from June to November, targeting the 732 preschool and elementary schoolchildren in those neighborhoods. Activities will be free.

Museum officials developed the bus idea about a year ago, after they heard about a similar program on the West Coast.

About the same time, Annapolis Housing Authority director Patricia Croslan was brainstorming ways to expose children in her underprivileged neighborhoods to fun, educational activities.

"Hopefully, we'll get some parental involvement with the kids, some hands-on activity together," Croslan said. "And they can get a view of the development of their kids as they participate in the activities on the bus. I'm just very, very excited about this."

O'Neill said the goal for the program is to help bring children in public housing communities up to speed developmentally.

"The child's development is probably most malleable and most expandable from the 0 to 5 age," she said. "It's a great time to engage them in problem-solving, social activity outside the house. If you don't, you're behind your peer group in developing. We're trying to enhance their ability to learn and get educated by the time they enter public schools."

Pub Date: 5/18/99

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