Maya Orr, a 6-year-old who spoke in recognizable sentences at the age of 15 months, gracefully pushed away the strands of wet hair that were sticking to her wet face.
"I like swimming," she said as water from her bathing suit dripped onto the blue and white tiled deck of Howard University's Burr pool.
"I knew there was a swimming course. But I also wanted to know about math, science and," she said with bravado, "creative drama."
Maya and 199 other academically talented minority students from first to 12th grade are spending nearly a month of their summer vacation on the university's main campus attending the Program for Academically Talented Students, or PATS.
The students spend eight hours a day in classes such as robotics, swimming, physics and Spanish. Sixty-two percent are from the metropolitan area, the rest from across the country.
"It's fun but it takes a lot of work," said Kaya Taylor, 12, of California.
"Like robotics," said Senita Stillwell, 12, of Detroit. "You've heard of it, but here you learn how they function and work. Once you learn how to relate to the robot , you understand."
A Howard University professor, James Williams, started the program in 1979 to prove that minorities can excel in technical areas such as math, science and computers.
But because of financial difficulties, this summer could be the last for PATS. Williams said the program had a $477,000 federal grant for June 1985 through May 1987. But the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction law forced a $202,000 cut in the funding.
"My staff is on wages now until the end of the program tomorrow , but then it's just me," Williams said.
Budget problems are not new to the program, which Williams said is the only one in the country set up specifically for minority students.
In 1983, finances forced him to cut back on scholarships for needy students as well as on teachers and supplies. Out of 17 proposals for funds Williams said he sent out in 1984, only one company responded with a $1,000 donation.
"I ended up paying for the program's brochure out of my own pocket," Williams said.
Williams said that in order to operate the program fully he would need $150,000, an increase in student fees and five full-time staff members.
This year, in addition to reduced federal funding, PATS received $102,250 from tuition and housing fees, which range from $585 to more than $1,094. The program receives no funding from Howard University.
"The future looks bleak," Williams said. "The way it looks now, we won't have funds to continue the summer program next year."
The lack of money reduces the program's ability to find and help academically talented minority students.
"Last year we gave out 50 to 60 scholarships ranging from $150 to $200," Williams said. "This year we only gave out 10 ranging from $50 to $175. It's unfortunate we are touching so few students. Imagine these kids who are exposed to the program as opposed to the kids who run 14th Street. It's a world of difference."
A small group of parents is working with Williams to discover the best way to solicit funds from businesses in the area to save the program. Williams said they want to reach a level where they can start an endowment fund.
Maya's father, Eric Orr of Lanham said he is "unhappy" because the program may be forced to end.
"We want Maya to have that extra stimulation," he said. "They give her a lot of work and we don't see this type of stimulation in this area that can approach the quality they have here. We are extremely pleased."
Orr said that although Howard supplies the facilities and space for the program, he would like to see the university give further support by donating money.
Arlington resident Dwayne Rawlings, 16, the only 12th grader in the program, said he realizes the importance of a program like PATS.
"Some of the stuff is expensive," he said. "I came here on a scholarship from some foundations. But if this came out of my pocket, it would be worth it."