While most of his peers are out swimming, sunning, or otherwise reveling in summer vacation, Erin Kelly, who wants to be a psychiatrist, sits in biology class at Howard University, his face alight with anticipation.
Erin is 9 years old. He is one of 129 students in the Satellite '82 Summer Enrichment Program for Gifted and Talented Children, an intensive academic program for second graders through eighth graders designed to augment regular school year studies and keep the students learning during the summer. In the five-week course, they study computer science, human ecology, mathematics, language arts and biology.
Satellite '82 is one of a small and diminishing number of summer study programs for very bright students. It is the only one locally that is primarily for minority children. Of its students, only nine are white.
Program director James Williams, an associate professor of psychoeducational studies in Howard's School of Education, founded the satellite sessions in 1979 as a vehicle for his theory that minority children can become leaders of society if they are trained at an early age. He said the program has been highly successful, but is endangered by funding shortages.
"I really think the program is great," said Kelly, who is in the Jupiters, one of seven sections of the Satellite program.
Across campus in the Computer Science Center, Erin's brother George, of the Saturn group, spent his 11th birthday last week in a terminal-filled basement room, helping classmate Dawn McKay learn the basics of computer science.
"Press all clear. Okay, reset. Hit return, okay. And now pick up the phone, enter the keyword, as soon as you press c-here-dataset type . . . sucker, lay it on me," George Kelly commanded the machine, as Dawn, 10, watched and followed his instructions. A Northeast Washington sixth grader at LaSalle Elementary School, Dawn said her real love is biology.
"I want to be a neuro-, um, neuro-, neurosurgeon," she said, definitively. Dawn does not mind sitting in class four hours every weekday. This is her second summer in the Satellite program.
Artie Dymond, 11, an aspiring archaeologist, is another returnee from last summer. "I am here because I want to learn," said the blond youngster, who is looking forward to camp after the program ends July 25. "I get bored outside all the time and many of my friends are away," he said.
Artie's biology teacher, Gwinda Chaney, who teaches at Rabaut Junior High School from September to June, said there is a day-and-night difference between students in her public school classes and those in the Satellite program.
"These kids are here by choice," she said. "They want to learn. . . . I let them lead me."
Dawn, who needed help finding her way among classroom buildings on the sprawling campus the first three days, is now on her own. Her biology class over, she walks across the campus green, blue purse slung over her shoulder, looking very much the part of a diminutive Howard coed.
Teaching these above-average children in a campus setting is important, said Williams, who came to Howard as an associate professor in 1973. "It has a psychological effect. . . . Their perceptions of their environment will make them look forward to college. And the independence is important; the teachers here don't pamper them."
Williams, who grew up in rural North Carolina near the town of Fuquay-Varina, entered North Carolina Central University, in Durham, on a full academic scholarship when he was 15. He was studying for a master's degree in educational psychology at Columbia University when he concluded that minority children have as much potential as white children to be leaders in society, if given equal opportunity.
"That's where it started. You see that all of the kids start out the same. On the learning curves, minority kids go down and down," Williams said. "If I could start a program and use kids' ability and potential, they would come back and do this well . I wanted to follow the children and see if it made a difference."
The teaching staff includes 10 master's degree candidates in Howard's School of Education who get course credit and a small stipend, and five other teachers on salary. After this summer, however, the stipends will be discontinued because of a funding shortage.
Students are chosen by their performance on three half-days of tests given in the spring, and subjective evaluations by the parents, current school teachers and the child. The tests are one of the costliest parts of the program.
"Those tests were really hard," said Toby Palmer, 9, who is in the Mars group. "They took three days and I didn't think I would get it. When Mom came downstairs and told me I passed I was, like, 'Great!' I was, like, 'Gee Whiz!' "
This year's students, chosen from 230 applicants, are placed according to ability rather than age in the Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune groups. Williams said naming the groups after planets is important not only for identification, but also to arouse the youngsters' curiousity.
"A name that has real meaning, rather than a grade number or letter, takes the kids at the first contact to a point of beginning to think, 'What does Jupiter mean? Where is it located?' " said Williams.
Williams said the most painful part of the screening process is denying enrollment to students who qualify on the basis of his criteria but who cannot afford the $250 fee.
He told of one father, a single parent, who tried to get his child enrolled last week. " His child is brilliant. But the money that the father had set aside for the program was spent for some sort of emergency," Williams said. The child was turned away. "You can see how kids slip through the door," he said sadly.
Williams raised $13,000 for scholarships this year, but 17 qualified students were rejected for lack of funds.
"Income makes a difference in terms of children succeeding," said Williams, who donated $700 of his own money toward scholarships the first year.
Helene Gerstein, a professional development specialist at the National Education Association, said stringent policies of the Reagan administration have helped to shrink the number and size of programs such as Satellite '82. "There are a lot fewer programs of this sort and this is one of the very few which remains," Gerstein said.
George Washington University's summer enrichment program for talented students was discontinued last summer after eight years.
"I found that I couldn't compete with the day camps," said Judy Findlay of George Washington's School of Education, who directed the three-week program that cost each student $375. "When we did have summer programs the children loved them," Findlay said.
Although American University's gifted and talented summer enrichment program enrolls a mix of international, white and minority children, one-fourth of them black, according to associate director Greg Butta, Satellite '82 is "probably one of the few in the country" that is predominantly black.
Phyllis D. Hines, coordinator of the Gifted-Talented Education Program of the D.C. Public Schools, said the city's summer session, which enrolled 125 students in 1980, was closed this year due to a lack of funds.
Williams is fully aware of the special nature of his creation. "Seldom can a person dream and reach what they desire to reach in my profession," he said.