The only real outdoor activity that 12-year-old Timothy Hill normally gets is to play stickball in one of the alleys near his home on Massachusetts Avenue SE or to play basketball in the asphalt-covered yard of his neighborhood school.
He hasn't traveled much outside Washington. What's more, he rarely goes from the Anacostia neighborhood where he lives into Northwest Washington.
Timothy, who attends Bryan Elementary School in Southeast, is one of about 2,000 sixth-graders who attend the District public school system's Round Meadow Outdoor Laboratory school, a camp that is held during the academic year in Catoctin Mountain Park near Camp David.
The camp, which has been kept alive until now by federal funds under a law that governs desegregation programs, serves to help bring black city students together with white students in a school system that is 95 percent black.
It is also used by school officials to mix students from different economic backgrounds and different parts of the city. And it represents, for many of the city's underprivileged youngsters, their first time out of the city and their first time at a camp.
Students attend the camp for a week and undergo a vigorous mathematics and science regimen, including lessons in geology, ecology and anthropology.
Snakes, frogs and a variety of fish and insect specimens are brought into the classrooms. The students learn what differentiates one animal species from another, how to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius and how to determine the acid level of stream water.
But this is last year that the school system will receive the $500,000 federal grant that finances the program, which has grown steadily more popular over the last six years with parents and school officials.
The Catch-22 is this: Round Meadow was funded under a portion of the federal Emergency School Aid Act, first passed in 1972, which permitted school systems to get money to maintain special programs in schools where more than half the school population represents minorities. But Congress decided in 1978 that money spent on predominantly minority schools was not really aiding desegregation, and therefore eliminated funds for programs like Round Meadow as of the fiscal year that begins next fall.
City school officials argue, in turn, that Round Meadow is a major integration program, and cite these federal guidelines as examples of how federal laws often work counter to the purpose they were written for.
This is not the first time that a District school program has lost money under the same legislation. Several predominantly black schools in the city have already had to reduce or drop services formerly funded by $400,000 of emergency school aid money.
Previously, for example, the school system used emergency aid money to support career education centers in all the city's 12 senior high schools. There were also career education centers in each of the school system's six regions, serving all the junior high school and elementary schools in the city. r
But last year, federal education officials began interpreting the federal desegregation guidelines more strictly and ordered the city to spend emergency aid funds only in schools that were covered by the District's 1967 desegregation plan.
This meant that the emergency aid money would then go mainly to schools west to Rock Creek Park or downtown, which are attended by almost all the 4,240 white students in the public system.
City officials argue that the funds, therefore, are no longer being spent in schools that need them the most.
Now, there are only three career education centers in the school system. And only 17 schools are eligible for emergency aid funds.
Another result of the stricter enforcement of federal guidelines was that the school system was prevented from sending as many white students to the Maryland camp as it had in the past in order to achieve a good racial balance. This is because the guidelines for programs like Round Meadow required the system to spend the money only on schools that are predominantly black.
So what the program's directors have done this year is to mix at the camp black students from different parts of the city and different economic backgrounds.
Thomas Herrmann, administrator of the emergency aid programs in the city, said school officials have known all along the way not strictly complying with the federal guidelines, which mandate that the funds only be used in integrated schools.
But they justified this, he said, by pointing out that the District is in a unique position since its student population is 95 percent black.
In addition, school officials argue that the District's 1967 desegregation plan -- the result of a lawsuit filed by the late city councilman and civil rights activist Julius Hobson against the system -- is basically outmoded.
Hobson filed that suit alleging that schools in the virtually all-black sections of the city were overcrowded and were receiving fewer services than the schools west of Rock Creek Park.
Judge J. Skelly Wright then ordered the city to bus students from certain overcrowded schools in Anacostia who volunteered to attend underused schools in the white neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park.
Since then, the city has built new schools in Anacostia to eliminate over-crowding and there has been no busing for desegregation for the past five years.
"We all know (the desegregation plan) is outdated, but it's the only thing we have to get emergency aid money," Hermann said.
Meanwhile, stuck in this maze of federal guidelines is the Round Meadow program.
One day recently, 11-year-old Darnell Davis from Bryan School, chewing on a mouthful of pizza at lunch, excitedly told his classmates that he and some of the other students had walked along a nature trail with their teacher and that he had seen a waterfall for the first time.
Eleven-year-old Bruce Beard, another Bryan student, proudly proclaimed to his friends that he had seen a deer for the first time "in real life" that day.
But there are some important social lessons to be learned as well at the camp.
"You have some kids come in here and say, 'Where's teh maid?'" said Steve Owens, the camp's assistant director. "I just say, 'look in the mirror, my dear.'
"Then you have the kids who, if you give them two sheets -- we always give them two sheets for their beds -- say to you, 'What do I do with two sheets?'"
Owens said one sixth-grader who passed through the program once told him on the first day, "I don't like anything white, man. I don't even drink milk."
"But by the end of the week, he was working with the other kids (black and white). He had changed his story" Owens said.
Herrmann said he will ask the school board to fund Round Meadow in the coming years through the school system's general budget. But he is not hopeful.
The school system this year is facing a $28 million deficit and four school board members have already said it appears doubtful the system will be able to pick up the $500,000 tab for the camp program. However, board member John E. Warren, who heads the school committee that handles budget matters, favors keeping the program.
Herrmann said he will also go to private foundations to seek funds.