Howard summer students cross bridge to learning


This summer, 10-year-old Jared Cole-Lewis has a rare luxury: daily computer time at school. Jared and his classmates are editing an action movie they scripted and videotaped as part of the Black Student Achievement Program's Summer Bridge program.

Despite the name, Summer Bridge seeks to do more than fill the gap between mid-June and late August for its students.

"We're trying to accelerate them," said Ron Morris, assistant principal of Bellows Spring Elementary and one of two administrators on site at Wilde Lake High. "Hopefully, they'll walk away with skills that will be advanced for the school year."

The program, also called SEAL (Student Enrichment & Accelerating Achievement of Learning), has been in existence for more than 10 years and also is sponsored by the Howard County school system. This year, 127 middle and high school students attend SEAL, which is open to all county students.

Classes began June 28 with team-building activities and will end July 30 when students will display their work and picnic with their families.

Until then, it's a structured day for SEAL participants. Three sessions of academics begin at 9 a.m., followed by a menu of enrichment classes in the afternoon. But within that structure, teachers find time to give lessons on leadership and personal responsibility.

"I just love working with kids," said Ma'ani Martin, who teaches special education at Harper's Choice Middle during the school year. In his third year with the SEAL program, Martin is teaching sixth- and seventh-grade language arts and reading.

Focus on leadership

Martin said he likes SEAL for its focus on enrichment, such as the theme of leadership, which is "fused into the program [to] help enhance the kids' understanding about life."

They also learn about life from a weekly guest speaker. Each Friday, the schedule is modified so students can meet with a successful person in the community.

Last Friday, Howard County Councilman David A. Rakes and WKYS-FM (93.9) radio personality Norman Tillman, known as "Porkchop," visited to talk about their careers.

"[Tillman] shared a message with them, telling them to stay focused on your dreams and goals," Morris said.

Tillman told the children how he started in radio as a volunteer and has worked his way up.

Through guest speakers and enrichment courses, Martin said, "We touch other aspects, other avenues within the curriculum," that teachers often don't have the opportunity to cover during the school year.

This gives the program a quality versus quantity feel. In math, Morris noted, students work solely on algebra and geometry rather than reviewing a year's worth of work. In language arts, all students are given the goal of completing a novel this summer.

A classroom teacher and an academic mentor teach academic classes. Morris' co-administrator, Nelda Sims, an assistant principal at Wilde Lake High, said the mentors "each have at least one student they mentor in other areas," like social skills, in addition to academic help.

Providing opportunities

Sims said she enjoys working with "students who have the potential to be leaders" but don't have the opportunity or the nerve in a larger school environment.

"They have the potential to do better in an atmosphere where they're shown ways" to be leaders and to succeed, she said, adding that the children will take these new skills back to their home schools in the fall.

Jared, who will be a sixth-grader at Hammond Middle School, said, "It's fun."

He said one of his favorite parts of SEAL is that "you get to use computers more" than during the school year.

Fabriss Michel, 12, is an incoming seventh-grader at Saint Augustine School in Elkridge. She enjoyed making the movie as a group project because "working in a group, it's faster and better," she said. Last week, the technology students crowded around a bank of computers, working together on editing.

"I love seeing the students when they tap into that [which] they didn't realize they had before," such as kids trying drama or music for the first time, Sims said. "In a smaller setting, they can identify some of their strengths."

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