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Lansdowne Middle students spend a day at Camp Hippodrome

A group of middle school students from the Lansdowne Summer Bridge Academy, a free summer enrichment program at Lansdowne Middle School, spent Wednesday singing, dancing and even painting their faces at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore City.

The day of activities was part of a free one-day program offered by the Hippodrome Foundation called Camp Hippodrome, which culminated with the 29 students doing an on-stage performance of the song they had learned.

After they had eaten lunch, the group practiced "Oh The Thinks You Can Think," a song from "Seussical the Musical" in a mirrored dance studio in the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center under the direction of three Camp Hippodrome instructors.

"It's very intimidating at first for kids, who aren't really used to theater," said Caitlin Bell, director of Camp Hippodrome, who teaches at Heritage High School in Baltimore City. "And these kids aren't part of a camp that specializes in theater, so this is a special day for them and I think some of them are a little bewildered."

The foundation, a nonprofit that provides a number of free theater outreach and education programs, has developed a partnership with Lansdowne Middle and will offer an artist-in-residence program there in the upcoming school year, said Oliver Waxter, director of the Hippodrome Foundation.

"Most of our kids don't have the opportunity to come to a place like the Hippodrome," said Christopher Bunn, a musical performance teacher at Lansdowne Middle and one of eight teachers who work at the summer program. "Being able to come downtown to see a building that's celebrating its 100th year is getting to experience something they normally wouldn't."

For Dayana Henriquez, 13, of Baltimore Highlands, whose face had recently been brushed with orange, pink and green face paint, spending the day at the Hippodrome was "a new experience."

She regularly sings and dances on stage as a member of the school's drama club.

"I've never been in an actually theater and full blown participated," the eighth-grader said.

Zachary Kennedy, a seventh grader who plays the trumpet, said the day at the theater was a break from the science project he has done throughout the summer as part of the summer academy program.

"It's kind of fun because you get to know other people and learn new things," said Zachary, 12, a Lansdowne resident.

Bunn explained that the day trip to the Hippodrome, was part of the performing arts academy program offered at the Lansdowne Summer Academy. This year, the camp tried a new strategy to engage students, by allowing them to choose from four different academies: performing arts, health and fitness, school beautification and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

The summer program, which began July 7 and ends August 1, is offered to Lansdowne Middle students through the federal Title 1 program, which provides federal assistance to school with high percentages of low-income children, Bunn said. In the 2012-2013 school year, 93.4 percent of students at the school participated in the Free and Reduced Meal (FARMS) program, according to BCPS records.

"In previous years, the attendance trails off after two or three days at the beginning of the program," said Dustin LePla, a math teacher at Lansdowne Middle who teaches in the program. "But with the academies, because the students have a choice of what they want to do, they're here because they want to be here."

Katherine Gagnon, an English teacher who has taught in the program for six years, said last year the program began with 102 kids and dwindled to between 65 and 70 after the first few days.

This year, the program started with approximately the same number of students, but more than 85 kids are still in the program, Gagnon said.

"Nobody wants to get up in the morning to go to school — this allows them to take ownership of their education," Gagnon said.

She said the new approach allows the kids to learn while doing things they enjoy.

Spending a day at the Hippodrome was another attempt to engage students, Gagnon said.

"I don't think they realize they're learning," she said.

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