Students at Howard County's Summer Initiatives for Talent Development program think kids shouldn't spend their summers watching television or hanging out with friends when they can extract DNA from fruits and vegetables or debate whether schoolchildren should get paid for good grades.
"I thought it would be fun to get an education during the summer," said Cambria Miles, a rising sixth-grader at Murray Hill Middle School in Laurel and one of more than 400 students taking part in the summer program where students engage in courses and activities that cultivate their interests and expand what they've learned during the school year.
The Summer Initiatives program is run by the county's gifted/talented office and offers programs for advanced-level learners in technology, science, language arts, fine arts and mathematics.
Karen Saunderson, gifted/talented resource teacher at Oakland Mills Middle School, said the program draws students from throughout the area who are showing much passion for being in school during the summer.
"We try to offer enrichment activities that are high interest," Saunderson said. "The class size is no larger than 18, so it's very interactive with the teacher."
The program is held at Oakland Mills Middle in Columbia and is offered for students entering first through eighth grade. There were also high school fine-arts classes offered at Wilde Lake High School.
It features a Student Showcase at the school at 11:30 Friday morning. Among the performances offered will be one by a class called "The Great Debaters," who will stage a debate on whether students should be compensated by schools for making good grades.
Cambria is slated to argue in support of such a practice, Dunloggin Middle School rising sixth-grader Maya English will argue against it.
"I think [pay for grades] is corrupt and immoral. I don't think we should pay kids for something that's mandatory to do. I mean, we have to go to school," Maya said.
In the process, the students are preparing themselves for the coming year.
"I'm interested in science because it was my best subject in elementary school, and I heard [middle school] is really tough," said Joshua Kim, a rising sixth-grader at Clarksville Middle School. "My friend is in G/T science, and he never plays outside anymore."
He enrolled in a course called "Cracking the Code: DNA and How It Works," where students learn many aspects about the nucleic acid that makes up the blueprint for most living things. During the course, they've learned to extract and examine DNA from strawberries and peas.
Stewy Slocum, a rising seventh-grader at Bonnie Branch Middle School in Ellicott City, said he took the course because of a keen interest in science. "There's just certain subjects in science that, since there's not that many people studying it, you can be on the cutting edge of science even though you won't be in the field for many, many years."
Summer Initiative teacher Christine Hyun is teaching a class called "Talking Tangrams," where students probe math and writing concepts by creating original stories and illustrating them in tangrams, which are Chinese puzzles.
"It's a great opportunity to enrich kids where we're open and flexible to try out new things," said Hyun, who teaches at Gorman Crossing Elementary. "We can do it in a more integrated approach because we have them for longer chunks of time instead of between different classes."
Oakland Mills Middle Principal Shiney Ann John said that she is taken aback at how engaged the students are in schoolwork during summer.
"When I look at these young kids that come in, I am so impressed and so amazed at their passion and their energy," said John. "Many of these students will end up being our kids in a few years and so we're looking at fostering kids who are coming up through the lines and into middle school."