As a fan blew hot air around a classroom, LaToya Kess and her friend Erica Nicholas practiced multiplication and division and sipped water.
Across the hall, six children crowded around Southern Senior High School math teacher Paulette Jones to discuss what's so special about nines.
The elementary school children, some reviewing the past year's school work and others catching on to what they did not learn in the past year, are taking part in a free, two-week morning tutoring program run by three Glen Burnie-based black women's groups at Freetown Elementary School in the 7900 block of Freetown Road in Glen Burnie.
"We wanted to go into an area that needed it," said Barbara Bowens, the Hilltop Elementary School teacher who heads the effort.
This is the 10th year the women have given an educational boost to youngsters in one of the neediest areas in Anne Arundel County. Most of the 35 children in the program attend Freetown during the school year, but the concentrated morning program is open to any child who signs up, and about a third of the youngsters come from other areas.
Children start the day with juice and cookies while a teacher reads them a story. Organizers say they originally planned only a midmorning snack but added the early one when they discovered youngsters arriving hungry.
The first hour is devoted to reading, the second to arithmetic, with children tested for placement in each subject. Depending on their weaknesses and strengths, children may be taught individually or in small groups.
LaToya, 8, of Marley, is there for help in reading, says her mother Gretchen Kess. For most of the first hour, Hilltop Elementary teacher Yvonne Smith focuses on word skills, LaToya's weakness and Ms. Smith's specialty, in the relaxed atmosphere.
The concentration "makes her more aware of what she is trying to accomplish," Ms. Kess says. And, though the location is out of the way, "anything helpful to your child is not a bother," she says.
LaToya didn't want to make strides alone, so she invited Erica, 7, of Millersville, to join her. Erica agreed "because I like to learn more." She wants to master multiplication tables -- a popular task here.
Though the approach is laid-back, the work is intense. Teachers fill out instruction plans for each student, and, yes, there is homework.
"It's just like school, except you get out earlier -- thank goodness," LaToya said.
It's not more fun than the playground -- and it's certainly no cooler -- but even 7-year-old A. J. Jones, 7, of Jacobsville, recognizes that it's at least as important. He's brushing up on addition and subtraction.
The tutors, mostly local teachers, stress that youngsters must master the fundamentals so that they have a foundation to build on.
Or, as Alexis Leigh, 6, of the Freetown area, explains it: If you can't add 6 and 7, you can't grow up to be an astronaut, make a lot of money and eat good desserts. Those are her goals.
Tutor Alta Shaw says she has taken off mornings this week from her work as an educational research assistant at the Johns Hopkins University because she takes her community service work seriously. The three sponsors are sorority chapters of Alpha Kappa Alpha, which started the program, and Delta Sigma Theta, joined this year by the North Arundel chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.
The tutoring program is short on male tutors to serve as role models, Ms. Bowens said. But one woman's husband pitches in, male high school student is there daily, and next Friday's closing day program will include rounds of "Jeopardy!" with black male mentors who work at Westinghouse Corp.
Each sponsoring organization has put $150 into the summer tutorial for work books, counting chips and other supplies, many of which the students will take home with them, said Alpha Kappa Alpha chapter President Dorothy Weddington.
Use of the school comes free, and Principal Charlene Pryseski and members of area churches have helped publicize the program.