Making goop, tromping through wetlands and cutting up pork hearts are all considered academic achievement in the Explore and Scepter programs at Anne Arundel Community College.
The programs, started about 10 years ago as a way for county elementary and middle school students to enjoy themselves while learning, are beginning again Saturday with Aquatic Adventures, a course in which students tour wetlands, learn about aquatic life and take a canoe trip.
Other classes include Annapolis Alive, Japanese, Creative Writing and Bookmaking, Environmental History, and Dye, Slime and Paint, in which students learn about natural dyes, make goop, and tie-dye T-shirts.
Explore classes are for children in elementary school, and Scepter classes for middle school students.
"The idea is for a kid to explore a topic with more depth than they might in schools," said program coordinator Chris Mona.
Classes meet once a week, either after school or on Saturdays, usually for five sessions. Each session lasts about 1 1/2 hours. Students may take as many courses as they wish, and the prices range from $25 to $55 per course.
The classes are offered at the Arnold campus, Central Middle School and Severn Elementary School.
A few classes, such as Aquatic Adventures, meet in more exotic locations like the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater.
Teachers come from county public schools, the community college and interested individuals who specialize in a particular field.
"The main thing I look for is that special love for the area they're teaching," Mr. Mona said, adding that language teachers in the programs are natives of countries whose language they teach. The drama classes are taught by actors and actresses.
"These people can give the kids behind-the-scenes information because they live it every day," Mr. Mona said.
The programs are offered in conjunction with the county schools. School officials help determine the curriculum and distribute the brochures. Teachers select students who show strength in areas the Explore/Scepter classes cover, said Diane Sprague, coordinator of the school system's gifted and talented programs.
"The programs are really to offer experience for the students that will really help them develop potential abilities that they've exhibited," she said. "We want kids to experiment with different interests and abilities."
But the courses aren't just for gifted and talented students, Ms. Sprague added. For example, she said, "You can have a child with a particular learning disability, but who has a strength in art. He can be included."