Summer classes booming with `enrichment' courses

Small size, easy pace make learning fun

July 19, 2000|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

It's the middle of summer and hundreds of Howard County students are still in school. Elementary and middle school pupils arrive at Dasher Green Elementary and Owen Brown Middle each weekday morning ready for their next lesson.

Think these children are having fun?

The eight pupils taking Troy Todd's early morning "Living Science: Living in the Water" look as if they are. This month, they made wave bottles - containers filled with oil, water and blue dye - to show how the ocean works.

That elementary-level class is one of more than a dozen enrichment classes offered during summer school, which runs in two class periods from 8:30 a.m. to 12:05 p.m.

The number of Howard County children voluntarily attending summer school is on the rise. Much of that growth stems from interest in enrichment classes, which have doubled in the past few years, as more and more parents try to keep their children involved in academics all year.

"Parents don't want their kids to have wasted 10 weeks during the summer," said Diane Martin, elementary summer school principal. "They are recognizing that there are better ways to spend a summer than at the pool or in front of video games."

Vanessa Hooks' fourth-grade son and fifth-grade daughter are taking keyboarding, and enrichment reading and writing in summer school this year. Hooks, of Columbia, said she wanted them to keep their skills up for the start of the school year.

"Kids tend to forget what they've learned by September if they're not in a program," Hooks said. "Summer school really goes hand in hand with what they learn during the regular school year."

Howard County teachers and administrators make sure summer school is just that - a blend of school and summer. Pupils show up in tank tops, shorts and sandals. The atmosphere is laid back, and lesson plans are filled with hands-on activities.

"They actually think of it as fun," said Hooks, whose children are learning about dinosaurs this summer. "They don't even think of it as learning, but they are."

Joyce Mohammed, a North Laurel parent, said that is why she sent her sixth-grade son to an elementary summer school review math class.

"I wanted to find something that's not stressful but that gives him the skills he needs," she said. "He didn't have to attend summer school, but I thought it would be a helpful way for him to stay proficient in math."

Mohammed's son attends private school during the regular school year, but she said the county's summer program seemed like the best, most affordable one available.

Parents and children alike appreciate the fun lessons planned throughout the summer session.

The children in Todd's Living Science class paid close attention to his wave-bottle instructions and could hardly wait to begin dropping splotches of blue dye into their own oil-and-water containers.

"Ooh, it looks like someone polluted the water," 8-year-old Sarah MacDonald noted as she dropped food coloring into her bottle.

Summer school and regular school are "like night and day," said Todd, the Living Science teacher. Summer school classes are kept smaller and more focused than during the school year.

"In many ways, this is like a high school class, but with elementary school students," he said. "They concentrate on one subject for hour-and-a-half blocks of time."

Todd, who taught third grade this year, welcomes the different schedule.

"I love science, so it's nice to be able to focus on that," he said. "We get to cover a lot more than we would in a class with one teacher and many subjects."

The Living Science class is for children who just finished grades one through five, and Todd's pupils span that range.

Finding a curriculum and ways to present it to children of all ages can be a challenge, but Todd said the varied grade levels make for a more interesting class.

"It's so neat to see how fast they bond," he said. "It's not at all like regular school where a fifth-grader wouldn't dream of talking to a first-grader. Here, they can be the best of friends."

Elementary and middle school children from all over Howard County converge at Dasher Green and Owen Brown to take their summer classes.

The teachers also come from various schools.

"It's like a city that springs up overnight," Martin said. Her office is tucked away in the library, and there are makeshift signs pointing the way to it.

"But the comfort level comes quickly," Martin said. " After the first day, it seems like we've been here all along."

Summer school was scheduled to be at Oakland Mills Middle School, but Martin said it outgrew that location soon after summer school registration began.

With 291 pupils in elementary school and 250 in middle school, this year's summer program is one of the county's biggest. The numbers are up 85 pupils from last year.

Todd, who is in his fourth summer of the Living Science class, has seen interest in the enrichment programs grow in that time.

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