Joi Baker and Jennifer Bolden pulled on their goggles and slid a zinc- and sodium hydroxide-filled petri dish onto a hot plate. Remembering not to inhale the fumes, they dipped a penny into the chemicals, then held it in the flame from a Bunsen burner to make it look golden.
"Why isn't it melting?" Jennifer, 14, asked her teacher.
The girls were among 84 students taking part in a five-week, summer program sponsored by the county school system's Black Student Achievement Program (BSAP), designed to offer eighth- through 12th-graders the math and science skills they will need in high school.
Joi, 13, Jennifer and 10 others were experimenting yesterday with alchemy in a science course at Howard Community College.
The other students in the Mathematics and Science Summer Bridge program were sprinkled throughout the college's library building studying geometry, algebra and African and African-American history.
The $350 fee was waived for students who attend one of the county's 20 BSAP schools. Other students could request financial assistance.
BSAP was established in 1986 to help improve the academic achievement, participation and self-esteem of black students in Howard County.
Tim Frazier, 13, said the summer program adds balance to his previously basketball-filled summer. "A lot of people should consider doing this because I've matured a lot," he said.
The 84 students started the program on June 27, meeting Monday through Friday from 8:45 a.m. until 3:15 p.m. Generally, they have four classes a day, with quick breaks and a lunch hour filled with recreational activities. There are also SAT preparation workshops and field trips to museums and libraries.
Gloria F. Washington, who coordinates BSAP programs, said the summer program was designed for 40 students, but more than 90 applied and 84 enrolled.
Two students are Haitians who speak primarily French, 14 were identified as special education students by their schools and 10 are in gifted and talented programs.
Boys and girls do not attend classes together because the BSAP wants to provide single-gender classrooms.
"Young women don't have to worry about competing with the young men, but just competing with the challenges provided them," Mrs. Washington said. "For the young men to be in an all-male environment is positive. It allows them to expand."
While the girls were studying algebra, geometry and science in the morning with county school teachers, the boys were learning about African and African-American history from a volunteer.
The schedule reverses in the afternoon.
"It's a different environment because our minds won't be on getting their [phone] numbers but strictly on this class," said Dawud Wallace, 13.
Quentin Milroe, 15, agreed that the emphasis in his class is not on impressing other people. "We're learning about African heritage and political history," he said.
Vaughn Bradley, an eighth-grade science teacher at Mount View Middle School in Marriottsville, said the single-gender classes are helpful.
"I'm able to address a specific gender's needs and give them different exposures," he said. "The program is to expose them to things they will see in regular science class. The more exposure the have, the better off they will be."
Lauren Colbert, 14, said the program alleviates a student's math and science troubles. "It's good to see what its going to be like before I get to those classes," said the future Wilde Lake High School student.
Cheryl Miller, Lauren's mother, said the summer program is a step in the right direction.
"This is for kids who, if left at their own devices, would have gotten away from their studies," she said. "What they are getting is nurturing."
Nicole Thomas, 13, said the program helps break down stereotypes.
"It's good that BSAP did something for us African-Americans," said the Oakland Mills Middle School student. "I know people think that in the summer we're only out in the streets."