Preparing pupils for plunge

Activities: Rising third-graders avoid the summer slump by improving or maintaining their skills at 16 sites around the city

SuperKids Camp

August 01, 1999|By Zerline A. Hughes | Zerline A. Hughes,SUN STAFF

Squinting in concentration, Cameron Faulkner-Walker pencils in answers on a work sheet. The eraser on his pencil has had it, and so has he.

Cameron, 7, knows he has to tackle reading harder than the others in his SuperKids Camp group, but says he doesn't mind. He practices at home so that when he starts the third grade in the fall, he'll be caught up.

That's the goal of the eight-week camp, which has passed its halfway mark. More than 1,700 Baltimore children who will start third grade in the fall, including Cameron and 64 others at Federal Hill Elementary School, are participating at 16 sites around the city.

Some pupils have progressed from their reading levels at the end of the regular school year in June. Others have avoided the typical summer slump, maintaining their skills.

"I'm here so I can catch up on my reading because I read slow and sometimes I can't sound words out," said Cameron. "Sometimes I feel mad because I can't do everything the other kids can do. When I finish reading, I'm happy because I did something."

The camp was founded by civic activist Sally Michel to ensure soon-to-be third-graders are ready to successfully plunge into school and advance to the fourth grade. Research shows that if children don't learn how to read properly by third grade, they tend to have lifelong problems.

The campers have not only been reading, though. Recent SuperKids Camp activities have included a field trip to a Jeepers restaurant and a sailing trip with Baltimore Sailing Club.

"We were jumping over waves," said Darian Rouzer, 8. "At first it was real sunny, but then it started getting cloudy and it rained. We almost tipped over. It felt like the Titanic."

In between the recreation last week, "Miss Sheryl's group" -- one of the smaller SuperKids Camp reading clusters at Federal Hill -- focused on sounding out "ou" and "ch" words.

Sheryl Jefferson, studying for a master's degree in social work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, is a SuperKids Camp reading instructor for Cameron, Darian, Danell Knox, 7, and Porcha Scurry and Gregory Banks, both 8.

"My personal goal is to make sure all the children in my class enjoy their experience here," said Jefferson, who is spending her second summer teaching at SuperKids Camp. "I would like it if they enjoy reading as much as I do. If they don't learn their skills at this age, they're going to be lost. Teachers don't have the time to work individually like we do here."

Reading aloud, Danell and the rest of her Mastery II group receive stickers or other prizes from Jefferson recognizing their hard work.

The camp teaches four levels, Mastery I through IV. The lower levels begin by studying sounds and small words, and the higher levels focus on bigger words and reading comprehension.

"They help us read better, and I'm here because I want to read better," said Danell. "If we mess up, she helps us go back and read it again. I used to mess up words, and I had to go back. I used to always guess the words. Now I just figure out the words. I'm going to pass [the third grade] and be a better reader."

For the last weeks of the program leading to the end Aug. 19, reading challenges will be accelerated for all campers. All groups will make a transition from reading to reading comprehension. But the recreational activities won't end.

"Since we're going to be working harder, we're going to be playing harder," said Sheila Hurtt, manager of the Federal Hill camp site.

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