Summer at school is rated `pretty fun'

At Murray Hill Middle, kids are kept busy, productive


The magnet that 10-year-old Nathan Rivera was creating featured a creature with large, mismatched googly eyes, a blue fuzzball of a head and an oversized mustache, made from a strip of blue felt. "I made Albert Einstein," Nathan said. "He's crazy about his new idea."

Nathan was one of about 70 kids attending the Summer at the Hill camp put on by Murray Hill Middle School in Laurel. During the hourlong arts and crafts part of the day, he sat with several other pupils and made magnet creatures.

The camp, which runs through July 28, is unusual in that it is being run by the school, not by the county Department of Recreation and Parks.

"It's pretty fun," Nathan said.

Linda Monti, Murray Hill's assistant principal, coordinated the camp because she felt that kids need to be active in the summer. Though her staff is paid, she receives no money for running the camp, she said.

"I have such a belief that the kids need to have things to do," she said.

Putting the camp together has been challenging. "This is our very first year running the program sponsored by Murray Hill," she said, sitting in her office and looking over a printed schedule for the day. "We've been adjusting everything, but it seems like it's going pretty well right now.

The camp, open to Murray Hill pupils going into grades six through nine, has all-day and half-day sessions. The all-day session starts at 8:15 a.m. and runs until 4:15 p.m. The half-day session starts at 12:15 p.m. Many of the youngsters in the half-day program spend their mornings at academic-intervention sessions also held at the school.

The camp has six instructors in addition to Monti, all of whom work at Murray Hill during the school year. Activities include basketball, weight-training, arts and crafts, reading time, movies and board games.

Twice a week, the children swim at the county-owned Roger Carter Center in Ellicott City, sponsored by the Department of Recreation and Parks. Once a week, the county library system runs a summer reading program.

"We have a lot of partners helping us," Monti said.

Last year, the middle school was host for a camp run by the Department of Recreation and Parks, said Jeff Williams, manager of the department's Community Services Division. But it proved too expensive, and the department decided not to do it again. Murray Hill officials decided they could run their own camp.

"It's probably the way it should be done," Williams said.

Parents pay $380 for the full-day program and $190 for the half-day, Monti said. The price includes two snacks each day, as well as trips to the pool.

"The parents were pleased that we were able to offer this," she said. Monti said she is trying to give kids healthy snacks such as air-popped popcorn, animal crackers and granola bars.

The morning session of the camp has about 30 youngsters, she said. At 12:15 p.m., about 40 from the academic-intervention program join the camp for the afternoon. "I would say half go home and half stay," Monti said.

Lisa-Ann Rush, a Spanish teacher, is one of the counselors. "It's a great chance to be with the kids outside of the regular class," she said.

Chris Yetter, a sixth-grade science teacher, was helping youngsters in the weight room as they went through circuits. "The kids really seem to enjoy it," he said of the camp. "That's what it's all about - giving the kids something to do."

Some of those in the weight room were lifting hand-held weights, others were huffing and puffing on stationary bicycles or using other exercise machines. Nia Young, 11, who is going into sixth grade, was using a machine designed to exercise her abdominal muscles.

"Since I'm going into the school, I wanted to see what it was all about," she said.

Derek Jones, 10, also entering sixth grade, offered a detailed critique of the camp as he waited his turn to use a hot-glue gun and finish his butterfly magnet.

"Everything's good," he said. Then he thought a little. "But I don't like reading. The good things are basketball and - I haven't done it yet, but I know it's going to be good - the weight room."

He is pleased that he will know his way around the school when classes begin in August. "I'll know the school better than most kids that didn't come to the camp," he said.

Munji Asongwe, 12, hard at work creating his magnet, had a simpler assessment of the camp. "There's nothing bad," he said.

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