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Summer school test a hit with students

The Baltimore Sun

Hadriel Ferrera directed a blindfolded classmate through a maze of items scattered across the floor of the library at Running Brook Elementary School.

"Keep going," said Hadriel, 9, who will be a fifth-grader in the fall. "Go straight. Go left. A little bit more. Stop! Left a little bit."

A few feet away in the computer lab, students were reviewing Internet safety tips. Farther down the hall in the teacher's lounge, another group of students was preparing a dessert called Dirt in a Cup.

This is not your father's summer school.

The Columbia school has been transformed into a three-ring circus of learning during a pilot program that starts the day with the regular - and often dreaded - summer school curriculum, but adds four hours of instruction in "enrichment" activities in the afternoon.

After lunch, students spend the remainder of the day rotating through classes that include art, Korean, Spanish, photojournalism, gym and swimming.

Many say they are taking to the new format.

"I've learned so much," said Hadriel, who had just completed a team-building exercise that is part of a leadership course. "It's fun. You play games."

Running Brook's Assistant Principal Troy Todd came up with the program to combat low attendance at summer school last year. In addition to offering instruction in activities, the full-day format of the four-week program accommodates the work schedules of the children's parents.

In its first year, the program turned around the attendance. While 38 students took part in the summer program last year, 88 students are attending this year, with all but 10 participating in the full-day program, Todd said.

"We needed these kids here for the academic intervention," he said.

Todd drafted a grant for the program and landed state funding for lunch and teacher salaries. He appealed to several teachers about working in the program, and sent an e-mail soliciting help from teachers throughout the school system. He enlisted the help of parent liaison Maureen Gomez to encourage parents to allow their children to attend the full-day program.

"There are no grades, there are no pressures," Gomez said about the enrichment portion. "When they find something where they are successful, they can carry that success over into the academic day."

Even a short visit to the enrichment classes revealed the students' enthusiasm.

In a portable classroom, a group of chatty second-graders immediately went quiet, came to their feet and bowed to teacher Bobbie Jeon, who rattled off a series of phrases in Korean. They were enthralled by the series of commands and words from Jeon, a music teacher at Running Brook during the regular school year.

Back in the teacher's lounge, Erin Buchanan led the students in a discussion on the ingredients of Dirt in a Cup.

"I'm not going to eat a worm," exclaimed Kane Hines. The 7-year-old, a rising third-grader at Running Brook, did not realize at first that the recipe calls for candy gummy worms instead of the real thing.

Buchanan said she is trying to teach her students basic recipes that they can pursue at home by themselves or with an adult.

"It's a good skill for them to have as they get older," said Buchanan, who works as a special-education teacher at Elkridge Landing Middle during the school year. "Spending time in the kitchen can be fun."

Tony Esposito, who oversees the program, marveled at the way the students have responded.

"The kids want to stay," he said. "They are excited to come every day ... First thing in the morning they are asking what they are going to do in cooking, or if they are going swimming."

The teachers are also enthusiastic about coming to work each day, said Esposito, who will be teaching third grade at Longfellow Elementary in the fall.

"It is a positive atmosphere," he said. "That rubs off on the students. We're happy to be here. I think it's good for them to see their teachers in a different way."

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