A STORY IN THE JULY 22 DISTRICT WEEKLY MISIDENTIFIED JOYCE GRIMES, SUMMER SCHOOL COORDINATOR AT BURRVILLE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.
Arnell Robinson would have spent mornings fighting battles on his Sony PlayStation. Danica Stover figured she'd get up, eat breakfast, then crawl back to bed. Twins Kendall and Kendrick Holley had planned to watch lots of TV.
Instead, the 9-year-olds are crouched over large pieces of brown wrapping paper in Donnie Rutledge's classroom at Burrville Elementary School in far Northeast Washington, finishing a three-part mural of the dinosaur tyrannosaurus rex.
They and their classmates are surrounded by newly made artifacts: a huge nest with papier-mache dinosaur eggs the size of melons; jagged Styrofoam teeth stained brown with tea ("T-Rexes didn't have toothbrushes to brush their teeth," Kendrick says); fossils molded from clay. And they are overflowing with dinosaur information.
Tyrannosaurus rex hunted raptors, "small dinosaurs that hunt in packs," Kendrick says. "They're related to birds. In fact, raptors means, 'birds of prey.' "
Dinosaurs were either "herbivores or carnivores," reports Brandon Johnson, also 9. Herbivores have flat teeth, "like brontosaurus. They eat plants. The ones with sharp teeth eat meat."
"They lived like 65 to 70 million years ago," says Danica, brown eyes wide. A paleontologist, she says, is "a person who experiments with the fossils of dinosaurs and other stuff that was left behind."
The youngsters are showing off what they have learned in the first three weeks of the District school system's new Voyager summer enrichment program. Unlike the remedial reading and math courses designed for D.C. youngsters who scored poorly on standardized tests this spring, the weekday, morning Voyager program is aimed at strong students eager to learn something new over the summer recess.
The six-week dinosaur curriculum was created by the four-year-old, for-profit Voyager Expanded Learning, in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution. A second Voyager program modeled on medical school is being offered to D.C. middle school students.
Dallas-based Voyager--in conjunction with the Smithsonian, the Discovery Channel and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration--has started 17 programs designed for the school year, summer break and shorter vacations. They have contracted to provide programs for about 1,000 school districts in 44 states, including Arlington County, Alexandria and Fairfax County.
D.C. School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman decided to bring the program to the District this spring to build on what has become the largest remedial summer school in the Washington region. Eager to offer something to high-achieving students as well, she signed a $478,000 contract for classroom materials, lesson plans and teacher training to accommodate up to 5,000 students.
But procurement problems that have plagued the city, especially the school system, all year delayed signing of the contract until June. Ackerman has complained that the city's procurement office does not move quickly on important school system requests. Former procurement chief Richard P. Fite, who recently resigned at the request of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), attributes the delays to errors and sloppiness by school officials.
Fearful that the contract would not go through, Ackerman waited until it was approved before announcing the Voyager program. Fliers were sent home to parents during the final week of school. Some parents say they missed the announcement in the flurry of end-of-the-year paperwork. Many say they would have enrolled their children in the program but already had paid for more expensive private summer camps.
Instead of 5,000 students, about 1,000 enrolled. Laurie A. Westley, Voyagers senior vice president for government relations, called the turnout "heartbreaking."
Ackerman plans to offer the program next summer as well and to advertise it much earlier in the year. Because the Voyager contract covered far more materials than will be used this summer, Westley says, the company and school officials are exploring whether to expand the program to Saturday sessions during the traditional school year.
"They had camp, prior commitments, and they could not get out of them," says Cynthia Grimes, summer school coordinator at Burrville, explaining why many strong students at her school are not participating.
The program has drawn 76 youngsters from five elementary schools and a public charter school to Burrville.
Those participating are making the most of it. Rutledge's class has visited the National Museum of Natural History. In class, the children have sifted through owl droppings to identify bird and rodent body parts that were not digested. They also have staged a mock news conference, with students posing as journalists from publications such as the "Tyrannosaurus Rex Journal" shouting questions at a panel of "experts."
Words like "paleontologist" and "herbivore" roll off the students' tongues. When visitors arrive in their brightly decorated classroom, they race to find reference books and leaf through the pages to point out interesting things they have learned.
William Jenkins, 9, says he thinks the dinosaur studies will give him a better start on fifth grade than the church-based summer camp he attends in the afternoon, after his morning Voyager classes.
"In the camp, we just have fun, and do certain things that don't involve school," he says, while pasting paper onto the dinosaur mural.
Kendall, until now an aspiring engineer, confides that he has decided to also become a paleontologist.
"I can get a lot of money by just digging up bones and looking for stuff, and it's fun," he says.
CAPTION: Chamista Condon, 9, left, Arielle Dixon, 10, and London Summers, 10, add some touches to a mural at the Voyager summer enrichment program.
CAPTION: One student in a summer art class at Burrville Elementary captured a dinosaur in a plate.
CAPTION: Chandra Kea, 10, spends some time reading about dinosaurs in class.