FOR FIFTH-GRADERS at Friendship Valley, baseball and spring training have become more than something to watch on television. It's their language arts assignment.
This spring, pupils will spend six weeks reading about the national pastime and writing reports. In April, pupils will tour Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
"We always start with the Negro leagues for Black History Month," said Pat McTighe, whose fifth-graders will finish their language arts unit in about two weeks.
Last week, her pupils heard a presentation from David Seibert, Western Maryland College's baseball coach.
Seibert teaches a course each year at the college on the history of baseball. A friend of McTighe's, he agreed to share his knowledge about the Negro leagues.
The hourlong presentation included video clips from Negro league games. Seibert also discussed how black baseball players participated on white teams right after the Civil War, but how the game was eventually segregated. He told the children about the formation of the Negro leagues and how Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
"She did a good job teaching her kids," said Seibert, adding that he was impressed with the questions the children asked after his presentation.
The youngsters -- who are working on written reports about retired or deceased players -- demonstrated they already knew a great deal about the players' backgrounds and even their nicknames.
During the unit, pupils read nonfiction books about the Negro leagues and novels like "Finding Buck McHenry" and "Hontus and Me."
"This is really good literature," McTighe said, adding that she and her colleagues wouldn't have proposed the unit if they hadn't found so many well-written books about baseball.
In addition, students discuss issues of segregation when they watch, "The Jackie Robinson Story," a 1950s movie in which Robinson plays himself and recounts what it was like to be the first black ballplayer in the major leagues.
"It makes you realize how innocent they are," McTighe said, adding that pupils are shocked to hear actors use terms for black people that are now considered vulgar.
"They always ask, 'Why did people think that way?' " she said.
The movie also provides pupils with a good example of how individuals can react positively to adverse conditions, Seibert said.
Robinson "was basically told he could not fight back," Seibert said, adding the movie shows many situations when other players and fans bullied Robinson and called him names.
"He had to control himself at all times," Seibert said, noting that the Rookie of the Year award is now named after Robinson. "If Jackie Robinson did not succeed in white baseball, it would hinder all blacks from succeeding in white baseball, and he succeeded quite well."
The unit also gives the children an opportunity to learn more about a subject many love. And several youngsters who didn't think much of baseball followed it closely after finishing their assignment, McTighe said.
"I had one girl who was never really into baseball," McTighe said, adding that the girl's father hadn't been to a baseball game in years. "After our unit, she told her dad she really wanted to go to a game. Now, they make sure they go to Camden Yards a couple times during the year.
"This unit really gets a positive reaction from the students," she said.
Relive World War II
Come dance the night away at a USO-style dance and theater performance from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday at Longwell Recreation Center on Longwell Avenue in Westminster.
Tickets for the performance, which will benefit the World War II memorial in Washington and the Westminster Conservatory for the Arts scholarship fund, are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.
"It's going to be set up like a real USO," said Michelle Clark-Braverman, head theater instructor at the Westminster Conservatory for the Arts. "We're going to serve doughnuts, apple pie, Coke and coffee, just like they served at the USOs."
Advanced theater students from the school -- which also offers classes in speech, music and dance -- will portray characters from the World War II era, Clark-Braverman said. Those attending the production will be encouraged to interact with the actors, she said.
"Each one will have their own stories about a brother, uncle or father who is in the war," Braverman said, adding that the students will remain in character all night. "They'll try to evoke memories about the war from those attending."
Students of the conservatory, on Route 27 near Cranberry Mall, will also offer swing dance lessons before the production. The school's 16-piece band will perform swing-style music throughout the evening for dancing.
The school, which officially opened in October, has more than 120 students studying topics ranging from theater and music to parliamentary procedure and costume design, Braverman said.
"We have classes for anyone in age ranging from 3 years old on up to senior citizens," she said, adding that students may take classes for enjoyment or choose a more rigorous, professional track.
Grants and donations support the nonprofit school and help pay tuition for some students, Braverman said.
"That's one of the reasons we're doing the USO performance," she said, adding the conservatory provides scholarships for students who cannot afford tuition. "Everyone who wants to come to our school, can."
Amy L. Miller's Central neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.