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Students learn by osmosis at Science Center camp-in Overnight visits teach, entertain


Quick! Which juice should you drink to get the most Vitamin C -- apple, orange, grapefruit or pineapple?

Don't know? Well, about 175 Baltimore youngsters can tell you today, thanks to an unusual "camp-in" this weekend at the Maryland Science Center.

The children, from nine city church, recreation and school

groups, spent Friday night and yesterday morning at the Inner Harbor attraction, where they checked out the planetarium, played a dinosaur game and learned a little about nutrition and health.

"We learned how to keep food from growing molds and stuff," said Jami Rowe, a fifth-grader from St. Veronica's Church in Cherry Hill.

For many, this was their first visit to the science center. It has been staging such overnights for Scout troops and other groups for years, but this was the first time it opened its doors specifically for inner-city youths. To make it more attractive, the admission fee was waived, with each child asked only to bring a can of food for the Maryland Food Bank.

"Hopefully, we'll get some of them interested in science at this age, or get them excited about education in general," said Lisa Wyckoff, coordinator of the event.

From the time they arrived early Friday night until midmorning yesterday, the children and their adult chaperons were kept busy attending workshops, viewing a film on Antarctica at the IMAX theater and roaming among the center's hands-on exhibits.

The workshops focused on nutrition, to the theme "What's In It for Me?"

In one, children learned about the body's digestion of food through a skit starring the legendary detective duo, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

In another, kids experimented with yeast to find out the best techniques for preserving it and other foods from spoilage. A third workshop graphically demonstrated how vegetables, meats and nuts contain fats.

"There's a lot of stuff that has fat in 'em," observed Kia Gray after squeezing oil out of a walnut. The lively sixth-grader confessed her favorite food is potato chips.

Finally, there was the experiment to see which juice packs the biggest dose of that essential vitamin, C. Using indophenol, a bluish liquid chemical that loses its color when it reacts with ascorbic acid, the children and their instructor tested five different juices. Orange juice won out.

Around midnight, the youngsters bedded down on the floor among the life-sized dinosaur models and other exhibits. There was the usual amount of late-night whispering and giggling, but most seemed to have a restful night. Pat Francis, one parent chaperon, said she was so tired by the time she got the children quiet that she promptly fell asleep on the bench where she laid her head.

They were roused about 6:30 a.m. for a nutritious (of course) breakfast of cereal, coffee cake, juice, fruits and milk. Then the workshops and activities continued.

The children were energetic, but orderly for the most part. "Do you have any blood-pressure pills?" asked a chaperon as he trailed after one group.

For Trinia Johnson, 11, the camp-in was a treat because "I usually sit at home [Friday night] talking on the phone."

The Antarctica film, displayed on the huge IMAX screen, was a hit with many.

"The big screen was right up in your face. It was like you were right in the movie," said Jami Rowe.

Seven-year-old Carlos Scott said his favorite was the dinosaur exhibit because "they looked like they were real." For Michael Gray, an 11-year-old who said he'd like to become a doctor, the planetarium was tops.

Lloren Jones, 9, had a hard time picking a favorite. "You get to see experiments you can't try at home,"she said.

At 10 a.m., as the center was opening its front doors to paying customers, the children gathered in front of the animated blue crab to sing a farewell song. Then they collected their bedrolls and were gone. The only trace of their presence was a name tag stuck to the carpet.

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