The 1950s have come alive for 10-year-old Josh Roth at Howard Community College this week.
Sputnik. The Korean War. Elvis. Polio. Suez Canal. Nikita Khrushchev. Poodle skirts.
"I'm learning about everything that was famous back when my parents were growing up," said Josh, who will be a sixth-grader at Jessup's Patuxent Valley Middle School in the fall.
"It's pretty interesting -- a lot more interesting than school -- and maybe I'll be able to understand my parents a little better."
"Pop Culture of the '50s" is one of almost three dozen classes being offered at HCC this summer as part of its "Summer Sizzler Academic Programs" for elementary- , middle- and high-school students.
Unlike more traditional summer classes in the Howard County public school system, HCC's courses provide students with a chance to learn about subjects they otherwise might never have the time to study.
"In no way are we trying to duplicate anything that the school system is already doing," said Sara Baum, administrator of the Summer Sizzler program. "It's not for kids to retake classes, and it's not for original credit.
"It's a way to keep those gray cells bopping around in the summer."
Several hundred students are participating in the program -- organizers don't know the exact total, because many students enroll in several different classes, which last from one to three weeks. By the end of the summer more than 500 class openings will have been filled, Ms. Baum said.
"It's a valuable option for those students who might not want to attend the outdoor summer camp," Ms. Baum said.
In its ninth year of operation, the program also tried a one-week pilot class for elementary-school students this summer that proved to be so successful that it will be expanded next summer.
For middle- and high-school students, the classes range from such serious subjects as philosophy and math puzzles to such art-related ones as jazz ensemble and photography.
Falling somewhere between academics and art are such practical classes as how to run a business and prepare for high school.
"The transition between middle school and high school is one of the major transition periods, and I try to give the students a better understanding of what to expect," said Cynthia Hardin, who teaches the high school preparation class.
Ms. Hardin operates Learning Together, an area tutoring company, and is a part-time English instructor at Catonsville Community College.
Ms. Hardin said study and time management skills are particularly important for Howard County's students because many of the county high schools have adopted the four-period day. Under such a schedule, students attend most of their classes only every other day.
That schedule is similar to the schedule of most college students, "requiring a high school student's study and time skills to be on the level of college students," she said.
Study techniques learned
During a recent class, the dozen students discussed ways to study for tests -- including the occasional "cram" session.
Although students acknowledge that spending two summer weeks in a warm classroom preparing for the fall school semester can get a little tedious, they also recognize that the work could pay off very quickly.
"I'll be able to manage my time a lot better next year," said Daniel Liparini, 14, of Columbia, who will begin his freshman year at Glenelg Country School in the fall. "It's going to give me an advantage over everyone else."
Meanwhile, in the philosophy class, middle-school students pondered the "Crito," a Socratic dialogue written by Plato.
"Philosophy has been better than I thought," said Daniel Madoff, 12, who will be a seventh-grader at Oakland Mills Middle School in the fall. "I've never really studied philosophy before, and I thought it would be really boring.
"But it's been really challenging. We've discussed really tough questions," Daniel said.
The students discussed such complicated concepts as metaphysics, ethics and epistemology, leading 14-year-old Davey Alexander to issue high praise for one religious figure.
"Buddha was cool."