Day camp won't let minds idle

Agenda: Program combines fun with reading exercises to make for productive summer break.

July 04, 1999|By Zerline A. Hughes | Zerline A. Hughes,SUN STAFF

Toni Yowell started camp for the very first time last week. Nervous at first, by the second day, the 7-year-old was boasting that she was no longer shy.

Walking through the Maryland Science Center, Toni trailed a group of other campers, wide-eyed at the colorful sights of the solar system. A few hours earlier, she and 75 others were engaged in another activity -- sounding out words, reading in unison, and following with their fingers in brand new textbooks at Federal Hill Elementary School.

Not the average summer day camp schedule.

But this is SuperKids Camp, begun in 1997 to help children entering third grade improve lagging reading skills -- and make it fun.

"It's like both summer camp and summer school," said Toni, one of about 1,700 children enrolled this summer at 16 city sites, and one location in Baltimore County at Goucher College.

"I think it's going to be fun because we'll do reading and other stuff, too," Toni said. "There's a book I've been trying to read, `Wild Animals I've Known,' but I don't know how to read some of the words. After the summer's over, I think I will be able to read it."

The magic of the program is that much of the learning takes place through the games and activities in the SuperKids Camp curriculum. At the science center, children were able to read words such as "telescope" and "astronaut" out loud, in unison.

"We went up in the rooftop and we looked at clouds through a telescope," said Christina Kitts, 8. "It was so fun, I didn't even know I was learning anything."

Other activities planned to stimulate the children's minds include sailing in the Inner Harbor, cultural celebrations and trips to the library.

Some of the children seem to know exactly why they are en- rolled, and hope their work during the summer pays off.

"It's hard sometimes to read," said Lexus Morton, 7. "Some of the big words I don't know. I sound them out. They help me do that. I hope to read better so when I go back to school I can read and do my lessons."

Deara Leak, 7, said, "My mother brought me here so I could learn how to read and learn about the sun and other stuff, so when I go to college I'll already know this stuff."

SuperKids Camp was founded with the goal of helping improve the reading ability of city children. In the first year, 429 pupils were registered at four sites. It has grown with the support of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and contributions from private and public institutions throughout the city.

Second-graders scoring below grade level on standardized tests are referred by their teachers to SuperKids Camp for help with reading in hopes they will not fall further behind when they reach third grade.

"Kids lose ground over the course of the summer," said founder Sally Michel. "They lose two months of skill just hanging out."

Sheila Hurtt, SuperKids Camp on-site manager at Federal Hill Elementary, says the summer program will ensure that pupils return to school in September ahead of where they ended in June.

A study conducted by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County showed that SuperKids Camp significantly helps children's reading skills simply by getting them to read during the summer. Eighty-seven percent of those enrolled in the camp gained three months of reading skills, and 38 percent gained more than two months of skills.

"We never sell it as summer school," Hurtt said. "It's `Super Camp.' We're just trying to increase, enrich and give them a wider view of the world.

"Federal Hill is so historic, we've always got somewhere to go. But when they get in these reading rooms, they're about reading. For children, it is a real sense of continuing their study."

The Reading By 9 page will present periodic reports on the children's progress throughout their SuperKids Camp experience.

Pub Date: 7/04/99

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