Open seats baffling but not dispiriting

Class sees few pupils

organizers make plans for session next summer

July 25, 1999|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Pupils enrolled in Melody Mohr's three-week summer reading class at Seneca Elementary School in Bowleys Quarters were lucky -- their teacher planned for up to 20 children, but only 12 enrolled.

The low turnout might have been fortunate for her pupils, incoming second-graders who needed extra help with reading and writing skills. But the empty seats baffled Mohr, a 12-year teaching veteran, and her boss, Principal Anthony Annello.

"I thought there would be more children who were interested," said Mohr, who sent two reminder letters to parents of her first-graders. "The only thing I can think of is that [children] were already enrolled in summer camps or they just weren't interested."

Mohr's class, which met two hours each morning from June 28 through July 16, didn't cost participants a penny. Bus transportation and snacks were free.

Some parents suggested the class might have conflicted with work or day care schedules. Others thought enrollment might have been higher if the course had been advertised earlier.

Still, Annello plans to offer "The Reading Club" again next summer. "Absolutely, we've already built it into next year's summer session."

His persistence will pay off, said Sally Michel, who founded Superkids Camp, a summer reading program for Baltimore schoolchildren.

"These things take time to build," said Michel, who has watched enrollment figures skyrocket, from 469 in 1997 to 1,800 this summer, as word of the program's success has spread.

"You've got to hang in there," she said.

Mohr and a teaching assistant, Carolyn Bentz, walked children through a series of activities meant to sharpen their reading and writing skills. Mohr chose books that would appeal to the mostly male class, including texts on snakes, corn and a scarecrow.

She introduced books by presenting new words, writing sentences using unfamiliar vocabulary on large sheets of paper and taping them to the chalkboard so that pupils could read them aloud.

In writing exercises, the children wrote letters to their new assistant principal, Nancy Sudek, who read her favorite poems to them.

Besides the work, Mohr ensured that her class had a good time, bringing in tortillas to show how corn is used to make food and treating children to corn muffins.

"I knew it had to be fun or they wouldn't come," Mohr said.

Her tactics seemed to work.

"I like it here," said Tyler Workenaour, a 6-year-old who had a hard time keeping still at his desk but seemed eager to learn.

Parents said they saw results.

"I think it was time well-spent," said Joanne Hock, 41, whose son Douglas, 7, attended Mohr's class. "It helped him tremendously because he wasn't fluent in reading and he needed more concentration in his writing work."

Seneca used state grant money to pay for the reading class and several other summer courses -- all free to pupils.

"Every kid counts, and they really needed the extra reinforcement, otherwise their skills might have regressed," Annello said. "They will come back in August much more confident and successful."

Pub Date: 7/25/99

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