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Adventures in learning

July 18, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN

karenh@herald-mail.com

The chance to visit the Maryland Science Center and National Aquarium in Baltimore wasn't the only reason students were eager to attend a voluntary summer school program at Winter Street Elementary School.

"'Cause it was fun," Andreyanna Hart, 8, explained during a reception for Explorer School students and their parents Thursday at Winter Street.

Designed as an enrichment experience for both high-achieving and under-performing students, Summer Explorers Club offered participants a chance to learn a few lessons outside the textbook.

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According to art teacher Heather Wiles, the program not only helps push children who are doing well in school, but offers motivation for those who have not demonstrated their full potential.

About 15 students entering grades 3 and 4 showed off what they learned when the three-week program ended its second year Thursday. Teachers structured their lessons in art, technology and science around the ocean and the sinking of the Titanic.

Nick Harney, 8, dropped little aluminum foil boats in a tub of water and discussed which designs could hold the most weight.

"Buoyancy is an upward force that makes things float," Nick said.

Nick, who is going into fourth grade, said he would have filled his days playing video games if it weren't for the summer school program. He has no trouble explaining what he likes best about science.

"Investigations," he said.

Principal Kathy Kelsey said the summer school program and other initiatives are meant to fill in cultural background for students who attend Winter Street.

"I mean, we have kids who have not seen a duck ... or a chicken," Kelsey said during an interview at the school about two weeks ago.

According to information posted by the Maryland State Department of Education, 77 percent of students at the school were eligible for free or reduced-priced lunches last year. The school's poverty level is among the highest in the county, and test scores routinely are among the lowest.

Wiles, who helped students create stained-glass windows and papier-mch fish, said she hopes the program helped spark interests in students who otherwise were struggling in school.

She believes field trips and the chance to use technology, such as Personal Digital Assistants, might have opened some students' eyes.

Many had never before had those opportunities, Wiles said.

"Our kids don't get the opportunity to get out of town too much, so for them, going to Baltimore and getting to see the big, tall buildings and getting to see the Inner Harbor, that in itself is an experience for them," Wiles said.

The program and trips, which are free, are paid for through federal funds allocated to high-poverty schools, Kelsey said.

"We have to run harder - we all have the same goal - but we might have to run a little harder because the starting line might be here," Kelsey said, gesturing with her hands, "and we might be starting back here."

Brian Orndorff teaches second grade at the school. He guided students as they prepared PowerPoint presentations about what they learned during the program.

"I think it just keeps them thinking. I know a lot of kids, they said, 'I can't wait to go home and play video games,' and with video games, what do they do? Exercise their thumbs?" Orndorff asked.

For students like Andreyanna, learning never goes out of season.

The 8-year-old quoted statistics about the Titanic, as her mother beamed.

"If they had school all year round, she would go, she really would. She loves school," Debra Hart said.

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