Leith Walk Elementary is trying to solve its summer program's money woes with a youthful spin on a popular local project.

Kids turn crabs into cash cows

July 15, 2005|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

Over the past two weeks, the 180 children in Leith Walk Elementary School's summer program have learned a lot about crabs.

Six-year-old Taylor Snead learned that "crabs have `pinchers,' and they might pinch really, really, really hard." Tania Jones, 5, now knows that "some of them live in the ocean, and some of them live in their homes on the land."

Along the way, there has been another lesson for these children: That their summer program - which provides four hours of academics in the morning and four hours of recreation in the afternoon - is not to be taken for granted.

For the 15 years the six-week program has operated at Leith Walk in Northeast Baltimore, it has been funded exclusively by parents' dollars, $550 per Leith Walk pupil and $600 for a child from another school. Some parents spend months selling candy to raise the money.

But that is no longer enough.

As a result of rising gas prices, the school this summer is spending about $3,000 a week on buses to take the children bowling two miles away, swimming and roller skating three miles away and, Fridays, to state parks around the region.

"These buses are costing us an arm and a leg," said Leith Walk Principal Edna Greer.

To keep their program afloat, the children have been making crabs: papier-mache crabs, cardboard crabs, crabs on paper plates. Next they will write to local politicians, religious leaders, anyone they can think of, enclosing pictures of their artwork and asking for donations. Respondents will get a handmade crab to call their own.

The initiative was inspired by the Crabtown Project, which has placed 6-foot-tall fiberglass crabs made by adults around Baltimore to raise money for the city school district. Though Leith Walk is a public school, its summer program operates independently. Greer said teachers earn far less than they would in a city-run summer program, though she would not say how much.

Most Leith Walk pupils do not have the option of attending a city summer school program. The city's only offerings this year are a summer "bridge" program for students entering first, sixth and ninth grades to help with their transition to a new school, and classes for children in selected grades at high-poverty schools. Leith Walk is not a high-poverty, or Title 1, school, but Greer said there are still many parents who want to send their children to its summer program who can't afford it.

Like the Crabtown crustaceans, those made by Leith Walk pupils have themes. There is a Swimming Crab, a Dance Crab and a Sports Crab. Nine-year-old Camille Radford made a Beach Crab, with the animal's body colored as a scene of sea and sand. She said she chose her theme because "I really like going to the beach, even though I don't go all the way in the water. My parents don't know what's in there."

The theme of the Leith Walk summer program this year is "Feathers, Fins and Fur." Everything the children learn in reading, math, social studies and science centers around animals. The school lobby features a giant bulletin board with such vo"crab"ulary words as arthropod, exoskeleton and pincers.

In Taylor and Tania's class of rising first-graders, 13 little bodies are lying on the floor in the shape of a Japanese spider crab and reading sentences like "fish have gills." Rising fourth-graders are writing essays beginning with the phrase, "I was eating a crab when all of a sudden ... "

"During the school year, we're so locked into tests and getting ready," said Michael McNelly, the program's academic director. "This is an opportunity to just have fun. We try to foster a love of learning during the summer."

With their crabs completed or nearly so, children yesterday were pondering what to say in their fund-raising letters.

Blake Wyche, 9, plans to write that "it's an important thing to kids. ... It's making me get better in the subjects I have trouble in."

Marcus Andrews, 7, had a message specifically for Baltimore politicians.

"Believe in our schools," he said, "and help schools get money."

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