On bent knee, his arm outstretched, Mark Hiteshew proposed to a beautiful cockroach this week as part of an inaugural foreign-language summer camp sponsored by the Baltimore County school system.
Mark, 13, and 29 other middle and high school students paid $100 each to polish their Spanish language skills during a weeklong camp at the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County.
Mark, a pupil at Catonsville Middle School, dropped to his knee for his role in a fanciful production of "La Cucarachita Bonita," a fable that the students will present in Spanish to their parents today, the last day of the language camp.
In the skit, Mark portrays SeM-qor Raton, a rat who eventually wins the hand of a lovely but fickle cockroach played in turns by Tynekua Smith and Crystal Evans, both 13 and pupils at Dundalk Middle School.
"Soy un raton," Mark proclaims to the great amusement of his cousin, Luke Forand, also 13, and a pupil at Loyola Blakefield. "Shut up, OK?" demands Mark, flashing a playful smile.
Baltimore County Spanish teachers prepared the summer camp curriculum during the past school year, said Susan C. Spinnato, coordinator of Foreign Language and English for Speakers of Other Languages. She and other teachers hope the program will be expanded next year.
Across the school system, 10,937 students enrolled in Spanish classes last school year, Spinnato said. A total of 27,433 students took foreign language classes.
"Students today know they need Spanish to get a better job," said Tasha Scott, a teacher at Deep Creek Middle School. Scott persuaded nine of her pupils to attend the summer program, she said. "I think it's great to see the other kids, and it's nice to see that they love Spanish."
Later in the day, students were given a lesson in how to make "chocolate caliente," hot chocolate, and "los churros," a donut-like pastry that is served with powdered sugar.
As the room filled with the smell of cooking oil and chocolate, students watched Janet Newberry, a specialist from the Office of Foreign Languages, and Maria Carignano, a Spanish teacher from Woodlawn High School, prepare the sugary delights.
The women explained every ingredient and procedure in Spanish, taking a moment to illustrate different accents used by people who live in Spain and Latin America.
During the demonstration, students giggled when someone asked, "What's 'agua?'" "Duh," cried the class in unison. Everyone seemed to know that "agua" means "water." Most students enrolled in the summer camp have completed at least one course in Spanish.
Besides the cockroach play and the cooking class, students made papier-mache maracas and learned to dance the samba and the cha-cha. They swim and play soccer in the afternoon - all in Spanish. Buses pick up students at their home schools - including Golden Ring Middle School, Loch Raven Academy, Eastern Technical High School and Western School of Technology - every morning and drop them off there in the afternoon.
Spanish teachers Rhonda Tabb of Deer Park Middle School, Kara Ieva of Dundalk Middle School, and Marty Vandenberge of Catonsville High School also help with the camp.
They get language backup from two native speakers - Jhoana Oseguera, 12, and Carlos Gutierrez, 14, Baltimore County pupils who were born in Mexico.
Jhoana and Carlos are working to improve their English, too. They will make a video presentation about the camp in English to parents today.
"Sometimes they say another word, and it is funny, but we know they know it," said Jhoana. "They see us learn their language. Now we look at them."