WHAT STARTED as a family trip turned into a cultural exchange for Swansfield Elementary School second-grader Luka Nedzbala.
Last year, Luka's family traveled to Slovenia, which is between Austria and Croatia.
Luka's mother, Polonca Cesar-Nedzbala, is a native of Slovenia who came to Columbia in 1987.
During their trip, the family members visited a school where Cesar-Nedzbala's cousin teaches art.
"The children had a lot of questions," recalled Cesar-Nedzbala.
For his part, Luka was fascinated by Slovenian customs. Back home, Luka turned his interest into a gifted and talented project. He requested information from the Slovenian embassy, gave a presentation to his class on Slovenian culture, and prepared a display for the Gifted and Talented Fair at Swansfield last month.
Under the guidance of gifted and talented teacher Joann Olchowski, Luka and his classmates exchanged e-mail and packages with students at the school in Slovenia.
The Slovenian students replied with messages describing their daily school activities and leisure pursuits. Cesar-Nedzbala provided translation.
In April, the Swansfield students sent their Slovenian counterparts a package of small items representing life in Columbia.
Included were U.S. and Maryland flags, maps, Orioles stickers, stamps, a $1 bill and a swan Beanie Baby.
Late last month, they received a package in return, including artwork, stories written in English, a booklet written in Slovenian, photos of the students, a friendship bracelet and craft items.
Looking over the contents of the box, Olchowski said she was struck by the similarities in the interests of the children in both countries.
"It has been a very worthwhile learning experience," she said.
Wilde and Well Day
The Chem-Free Committee of Wilde Lake High School's PTSA took over the school May 20 for a wellness day that included more than 50 presentations on health topics.
Wilde Lake Principal Roger Plunkett "was brave enough to give us an entire school day," said organizer Leslie Ziegler.
Along with committee leaders Kathy Feddor and Rosalie Silverberg, Ziegler started working on the event in January.
Presentations covered topics such as substance abuse, smoking cessation, conflict resolution, coping with depression, single parenting, nutrition and exercise.
In one session, students tried on a pair of Fatal Vision Goggles that simulate being drunk and then tried to walk a straight line.
They were also able to drive the Chrysler Drunk Driving Simulator Car, which the PTSA rented for the day.
Students drive the simulator around an obstacle course. It demonstrates the loss of control that results when a driver is drunk.
"The kids were very sobered by the experience," remarked Ziegler.
The Columbia Association organized fitness activities in the afternoon.
The day ended with a pep rally and door prizes donated by local merchants. Each student went home with a bag of health information.
Ziegler noted that nearly all the presenters, many of whom represented social service groups in Howard County, volunteered their time and were eager to return.
Sharon Perry of AAA Maryland was instrumental in organizing the day, she said, adding that AAA is planning an outreach program for Maryland high schools, beginning this fall.
Ziegler also gave credit to her husband, Henry, who helped create individualized schedules for Wilde Lake's more than 1,400 students -- all without the help of computers.
"It was a fun day, and hopefully an informative day," Ziegler said.
For the future, the Chem-Free Committee hopes to create a series of monthly brown-bag seminars on health topics.
Signatures in space
Signatures of the 687 students at Clemens Crossing Elementary School will be carried aboard the space shuttle this fall as a result of a project launched by Lockheed Martin Corp., a company with headquarters in Bethesda.
Dubbed "Student Signatures in Space," the project was created to celebrate Space Day on May 21.
Lockheed selected 537 schools, 71 children's museums and 100 Girl Scout councils, to participate.
Other Howard County participants include Guilford, Waterloo and Manor Woods elementary schools.
"We wanted to provide a program that would capture children's imaginations and would be simple enough to allow children of all ages to participate," said project coordinator Val Wardell of Lockheed.
The students signed their names on giant posters that will be returned to Lockheed to be scanned onto a disk that will be carried into space.
When the mission is over, the posters will be returned to the schools for display, along with a NASA certification of space flight and a crew photo.
At Clemens Crossing, each student designed a space shuttle out of paper and flew it in school. Prizes were awarded for the best designs. The 50 top shuttles will be sent to Lockheed.
Last September, more than 96,000 signatures from more than 220 U.S. elementary schools were carried on the space shuttle-Mir docking mission. This year, the project was expanded to include 500,000 signatures from students in the United States and 28 foreign countries.
Pub Date: 6/03/98