Nine-year-old Jennifer Doyle looks intently at the screen of the computer terminal and then looks back down to the keys as she types a letter to her two sets of grandparents.
I'm going to summer school in the morning first there's art I made lots of sculptures it's lots of fun. Next there's computers I wrote this note to you in computer class it's fun. Then there's beginning band I'm learning to play the flute so far I've learned two notes. I can't wait to see you.
Jennifer is one of about 100 children taking advantage of a new summer school for the fine arts in Arlington.
Children in grades three through six are learning how to make ceramics on a potter's wheel, play different instruments, and use computers. Although computers are not considered a fine art, the classes were added to fill out the day, according to Barbara Bettis, fine arts specialist for Arlington public schools. "There was a third slot and computers are something kids are interested in. It's also a nice diversity."
Each weekday morning during July, students took an hour of art, an hour of music, and an hour of computer lessons at Swanson Intermediate School. Arlington schools have traditionally taught art during the regular summer classes, but have never had a multifaceted program such as this one, according to Bettis.
The idea, said Bettis, originated when a planning committee for summer school began discussing the possibilities. "This is the preferable way to teach kids because it's so intensive," said Bettis of the three-hour schedule. "The kids love it."
Montgomery and Fairfax counties offer all day summer schools in the performing and visual arts, although theirs are without the computer classes. The performing arts schools give lessons in dance, music and song, and the visual arts schools concentrates on painting, drawing and sculpting. While the Fairfax programs are open to all students, those wishing to enroll in the Montgomery programs must go through a screening process that includes auditions for the performing arts.
Lorenzo DaSilva, 9, said he likes art classes the best. He especially enjoys building model spaceships out of wooden blocks. "I have these dreams that I'm going to build a big spaceship."
Art classes also cover drawing, painting, ceramics, and sculpting. The music classes, offered for both beginning and intermediate students, are divided into different programs. Students must choose one program -- either violin, band and orchestra, instrumental (woodwinds, brass or strings), or orff (a new way of teaching music through body rhythms).
Laura Stokeld teaches orff during both the regular year and in this summer school. "During the year, I teach music only half an hour a week to each class. Now I'm teaching them every day," she said.
Carla Schuttle, who teaches three computer classes a day, said the children also get to use computers more during the summer lab. "Most elementary schools only have one computer for 30 kids and the teacher doesn't have much time to teach them how to use it," she said. "Here we have 18 computers. It really motivates the kids to write, even those who don't usually like to."
Jennifer, whose parents have a computer at home, said she will probably use the computer more often now. "When my dad first got it, he wouldn't let me use it a lot because he was afraid I might hurt it," she said. "So he waited until I learned so I could use it."
Ten-year-old Kate Comway has been learning how to use the computers to draw graphics. "It was my idea to come here, but my mom liked it too," said Kate. "I used computers last year, but only a little."
All children are eligible for the fine arts summer school, although there is a $95 fee for materials. Busing is also provided.
Although this year's summer school has just finished, Bettis is already making plans for next summer. "We probably won't increase the number of kids. I don't think we can handle over 100 kids because of the computers, unless we add a drama class," said Bettis. "But I'd like to investigate ways of offering the progam for secondary schools."
Like Bettis, some of the students are also making plans for next year. "I'd like to come back next year," said spaceship-builder Lorenzo. "I can spend some time with my friends and learn more."