Budding readers meet pied piper

Learners: SuperKids Camp combines recreation activities with reading exercises for children entering third grade.

July 18, 1999|By Zerline A. Hughes | Zerline A. Hughes,SUN STAFF

After three weeks, the anxiety and jitters are gone. The soon-to-be third-graders dedicating their summer to SuperKids Camp are deep into its two R's: reading and recreation.

Each week carries a theme. At Federal Hill Elementary -- one of 17 SuperKids Camps in Baltimore -- the 70 participating children started with "Core Values," focusing on respect, honesty, caring and responsibility. Then followed Hawaiian-related "Aloha Week," including lots of pineapple and leis.

Last week, the campers celebrated multiculturalism, with books and art projects concerning various cultures.

On Thursday, they were treated to foods from around the world. But the week's highlight was a visit from a Baltimore pied piper, Abu the flutemaker.

Abu, who makes flutes from items other people throw away, has added homemade drums, kalimbas and wind instruments to his repertoire. The music he made with the instruments drew "oohs" and "ahs" from the audience of amazed young children.

"He was fun," said Romanda Farley, 8. "I liked when he let us play his stuff. He helps out the trees and birds and crabs by recycling."

Abu started crafting instruments from trash and old furniture 20 years ago.

His instruments include what he calls "thunder drums," three 6-foot-tall drums made from porch columns; a saxophonelike "bedpost-aphone," fashioned from a hollowed-out, antique bedpost; and a "grand slam-aphone," made from a baseball bat.

"I get a charge from the children," said the Baltimore-born Abu, also known as William Emerson. "I realize the amazement in their eyes and it's like a joy to them. I use the form of recycling to let them know you can find things in your environment that are useful. It sends a message of nonrestriction."

Troy Cooper, 7, was able to pound beats on Abu's thunder drums. "At first I was having a bad day, but now it's better," he said after making it to the stage with an ensemble of other kids. "I've never been on stage before. I liked it."

Underlying Abu's visit -- and all the other activities taking place as the camp continues through mid-August -- is reading, which has proven difficult to most of the children enrolled.

Abu remembers having difficulty learning as a child. "When I was growing up I had problems in school," said the 59-year-old. "Everybody's not academically inclined, but some people have natural gifts and talents. My message to youth is to let them know that there are worthwhile things they can do with their imagination and with their hands."

As much as the children look forward to the recreation and entertainment of camp enrichment programs like Abu's visit, they do not shy away from their main focus of reading.

To ensure the children's alertness, they are served breakfast. Then, the SuperKids turn into focused students. For 90 minutes, they are grouped into nine reading-enrichment clusters, some smaller than others for readers requiring extra attention.

The reading groups are led by instructors, college students, par- ents, and city teachers who follow the Baltimore school system's Direct Instruction and Open Court methods. Some groups read in unison. In others, children take turns, reading one paragraph at a time.

Octavia Williams, 9, said that SuperKids Camp has gotten better each week, and that she is starting to enjoy learning to read.

"So far, we've done drama, we got science, and sports," she said. "When we come from breakfast, we do reading, but we have fun. At first, sometimes, I was bored. Now it's fun. If we get our workbook done, we get a Snickers."

"We had fun the first day and we've been having fun ever since," said Auvea Fortune, 7. "We work hard, then we play hard."

Pub Date: 7/18/99

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