Annapolis Firefighter Tony Spencer stands before a group of children in the gym of Eastport Elementary School and asks them to name a hero. They call out, Superman, Batman and Power Rangers. A little girl in the front row even quietly offers up, "Barney."
But Mr. Spencer tells them, "You can be a hero even at your age," and for the next hour tells them how they could save someone's life by following basic fire safety rules.
His presentation is just one of many programs offered to the more than 500 children participating in the Annapolis Recreation and Parks summer playground program.
For more than 30 years, the program has given children in Annapolis and the surrounding area something to do during the long, hot summer days, and provided parents with peace of mind that their children are being cared for.
The program, which began June 27, is offered at eight city playgrounds from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. until Aug. 5. It is open to children ages 4-12 for a fee of $50.
Each year, a theme helps define the camp program. Past themes included "Unity" and "The future is ours." This year, the message is, "Kids can be heroes, too."
"So many times, children feel heroes only come in capes and hats and masks of some sort," said Gilda M. Fowlkes, the program supervisor. "We want to show them, there's a hero inside of all of us."
Educational programs include lessons on safety, drug abuse, crime prevention, hygiene, animal care, health and nutrition. The children also will collect money for the Epilepsy Association of Maryland.
"Children should give something back to the community," Ms. Fowlkes said.
But while education and community service are stressed, the program includes plenty of time for play. Swimming, crafts, sports, games and field trips are part of the fun.
The program will culminate in a picnic at Truxton Park for the children and their parents.
The children at Eastport Elementary School said they preferred the play over the programs.
Sharaya Gross, 5, said she likes the swimming, ball games, and playing on the swing set.
Nine-year-old Shervin Golshany said he likes being with his friends. "Usually, all I did was stay home," he said.
Alisha Sweeney, 10, said her favorite part is painting.
Her 6-year-old brother, William "Spike" Sweeney, however, said he would rather stay home and watch cartoons on television. But he conceded he enjoys playing checkers at the playground.
Nearly all of the children said their parents work and rely on the program to help assure that their children are cared for during the day.
"This is cheaper than some of the other programs," said Aaron Howard, 10.