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Embracing 'Harry Potter' as a teachable moment

With the release this weekend of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II," the final movie in the "Harry Potter" series, fans around the county have enjoyed numerous events to mark the occasion, with more still planned in the weeks to come.

Whether making pumpkin juice, creating a family shield or role playing, fans of the boy wizard can't seem to get enough of the popular children's book series and movies.

"A Week at Hogwarts," a SummerKids class for ages 9 to 12, has been held at Carroll Community College every summer for the last five years. This year's class, scheduled for July 25-29, is already filled — with a waiting list.

"It filled up very quickly this year," said Linda Nestor, adjunct professor at CCC and project developer, as well as leader of the Harry Potter class since its beginning.

"It's so much fun to watch the kids think on their own," said Nestor, who incorporates chemistry, calligraphy, Shakespeare and more into the Potter class. "They don't know they're doing chemistry and they think it is of fun."

Nestor, herself a fan of Harry Potter, adds a variety of props and costumes to the week for even more fun.

"I love putting it altogether," she said. "I push (students) to use their imaginations in …many different directions. It really amazes me what the kids come up with."

The success of the class has inspired another class on a children's book series about Percy Jackson.

"We're always looking at what's hot, and what the kids are into," said Sally Long, senior director of lifelong learning and project support system at Carroll Community College. "We have an American Doll class, a Dr. Seuss class. We offer an enrichment program for kids in a camp-like environment."

The college isn't the only outlet in Carroll County where youngsters have been learning while celebrating their Potter interests. The county's Department of Parks and Recreation this summer worked with Drama Learning Center to offer a theater class about Harry Potter, which was held at Sandymount Elementary School.

"Kids explored the world of Harry Potter by writing skits, role playing, drama games, creating props and theater projects," said Stephanie Williams, owner and artistic director of Drama Learning Center.

This is the first year DLC has offered a Harry Potter camp. In the spring, the center offered a one-day workshop on Harry Potter at its school in Columbia that was very popular.

"It was a huge hit, and people suggested it for a summer camp," Williams said. One of the teachers at the school designed the course for the camp, though instructors tweak it to match the interests of the participants.

"For Carroll County, the kids were really interested in role playing and acting out scenes," Williams said. "All the kids had a really good time. Kids were just happy to do things with a Harry Potter theme."

"It is a good thing," Williams said of the Harry Potter series. "The possibilities are pretty much endless creating for kids and designing a curriculum around it."

Many of Carroll County's public libraries have hosted Harry Potter events throughout the years, from movie showings to debates and book giveaways.

The Mount Airy branch hosted a popular Hogwarts party in the fall to celebrate the opening of the last movie, and had plans to host a similar party to celebrate the opening of the final movie — complete with a scavenger hunt, wand making, herbology crafts and a candy shop with goodies available for gold coins.

"Last fall was very successful. Well over 150 people attended total," said Beth Heltebridle, children's service supervisor, of the event. "The programs are a lot of fun."

Heltebridle doesn't believe the library has seen its last Harry Potter program, either, even though the movies are done and the book series is complete. She compared Harry Potter to Star Wars, another popular series that the library has turned into programs and special events.

"An entire generation of kids have grown up with Harry Potter," Heltebridle said. "It is one of the first major recently crossover books with children, young adults and adults reading it.

"It doesn't look like its popularity in any form is waning, and I don't think it will for quite a while," she said. "It will be considered a classic in children's literature, definitely."

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