WHEN FRED Talentino was in the eighth grade, his mother signed him up for dance lessons. At first, he hated it. But as he learned the steps, his confidence grew, and he started to look forward to the classes - not that he would acknowledge it, of course.
These days, Talentino tells that story to the eighth-graders at Patapsco Middle School at the start of the ballroom dancing unit he teaches. Talentino, a physical education teacher at the school in Ellicott City, started the program about 12 years ago because he wanted pupils to have a good time at the school dance held every spring.
"We wanted to give them as many tools as we could to prepare them, to make it fun so they wouldn't be standing against a wall," he said.
During the years, the dance unit has grown. "Each year it has evolved, and we add something to it," Talentino said.
At first, it was doing a dance for a grade. Then it was a contest. Then pupils put numbers on their backs. Then prizes were offered.
Now, the school's two other physical education teachers, Felix Smith and Ellen Burgess, are in on the act, so all children in grades six to eight who take physical education get a five-day dance unit.
Sixth-graders square dance, and seventh-graders learn about folk dancing. Eighth-graders, who learn ballroom dancing, participate in the contest.
March 21 and 22, youths with numbers on their backs showed off their steps to judges, including school administrators, guidance counselors and teachers.
Talentino said the children, similar to him in eighth grade years ago, usually start out reluctant to dance. "You'll see them stumble for a day or two, and then you see the dance contest, and it's like, wow," he said. "We get surprised every year."
Robert Mobley's drawing Fire Truck was selected for inclusion in a book of work by promising young artists. But what makes that so impressive is that Robert is in first grade.
His drawing of a red firetruck under a yellow sun and next to a green tree will be featured in Dreams of the Imagination, a book showcasing artwork from youths across the country.
The drawing by Robert, a pupil at Deep Run Elementary School, was selected by a panel of judges from ArtsAndKids.com, which held a contest and selected the best works. ArtsAndKids.com is based in Owings Mills. Robert's artwork can be seen on the Web site.
Walk this way
Now that spring is here, it's a good time to lace up those sneakers and enjoy the outdoors.
Columbia Volksmarch Club is featuring two spring weekend walks in Ellicott City and Oella on Saturday and Sunday.
Five-kilometer, 10-kilometer and 11-kilometer trails will be open. Ten kilometers is 6.2 miles.
All walks begin and end at Roger Carter Recreation Center in Ellicott City. Walkers can start between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., and must finish by 4 p.m.
The 5K trail goes through historic Ellicott City; the 10K continues into Oella and the "rails-to-trails" of the old Oella Trolley Route. The 11K trail goes into Hollifield Area of Patapsco State Park and includes steep hills. None of the walks is recommended for wheelchairs.
The 5K walk is the only one suitable for strollers.
All are welcome to participate and to walk at their pace, though registration is required at the start. A $2 fee is charged walkers who want credit from the International Federation of Popular Sports.
Information: 410-313-8499 or geocities.com/WalkColumbia.