Completing their real work

Learning: Program that blends reading and phonics with fun for elementary pupils is wrapping up.

August 15, 1999|By Zerline A. Hughes | Zerline A. Hughes,SUN STAFF

They've looked at outer space through a telescope, cruised the Inner Harbor by sailboat, and even flown -- on ropes, anyway -- in Baltimore's Leakin Park.

Most important, the 70 children enrolled at SuperKids Camp's Federal Hill Elementary School site have completed their real work: daily 90-minute reading sessions for the past seven weeks.

Well-deserving of the title "SuperKids," now they're ready to dedicate their last week of the grant-funded program to overnight camping trips, parties and graduation.

"When it's over, I'll be sad because I like SuperKids Camp," said 9-year-old Rebecca Dorsey, adding that learning to read will be what she remembers the most.

Rebecca is one of about 1,700 elementary schoolchildren at 17 area sites who spent the summer in the program -- and the adults who have financed and run the camp hope the result will be 1,700 better-prepared pupils entering the third grade.

"These kids are the luckiest kids in the city," said Theresa Karr, a reading instructor and counselor at the Federal Hill site. "They get a wide range of experiences. We just hope what they have learned, they can carry with them."

Begun in 1997, SuperKids Camp has mixed reading with recreation, exposing children to sights many had never seen before.

The children took reading comprehension and vocabulary exit exams Thursday and Friday evaluating their summer reading progress. Results will be given to the pupils' teachers for class placement in the fall.

Federal Hill site administrator Sheila Hurtt has high expectations for her campers.

"I expect that all of them have moved forward," she said. "The kids are like sponges. Once you get them wet, they soak it all up, and they've been bombarded with information this summer. We're also looking at the students holistically. We know they're better behaved, more disciplined. They're not as reluctant to learn. They're eager now."

Aside from mastering phonics and reading comprehension during the weeks, the campers have learned team-building and self-confidence -- with help from the Outward Bound Program.

Outward Bound teaches self-reliance and concern for others, and encourages growth through adventure-based expeditions.

For 58 years, the program has been offered to teen-agers and adults -- and, in each of its three summers, to SuperKids Camp's 7-, 8-, and 9-year-olds, spending a day getting to know the environment and each other.

A bus load of squirming children traveled to Leakin Park's Carrie Murray Outdoor Education Center, where they were divided into teams and led into the woods with blindfolds in a test of trust.

They climbed a 30-foot net leading to a treehouse. In safety harnesses and helmets, they scaled a 40-foot wall and the "tower of power" -- a 25-foot pole.

"It's fun up there," said Stacy Harrington, 8, the first girl to reach the top of the wall. "It's not scary. I grabbed on the rope, and I just pulled myself up. I made it."

Porcha Scurry, 8, climbed the tower of power, stopping midway. She said she was scared and couldn't make it.

But with the support of her team, the Green Butterflies, she made it to the top (despite the tears rolling down her cheeks).

Teammate Tory Cooper, also 8, made it without a hitch -- although he did have a safety rope attached when he jumped off the top of the pole and soared through the air.

"I like Outward Bound because we get to climb things," he said. "I like SuperKids Camp because we get to go on a lot of trips."

The campers will end their summer visiting area college campuses to get an understanding for higher learning and rehearsing for Thursday's graduation.

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