Feature: U.S. students get edge on new school year with activities over summer break

by Betty L. Martin
HOUSTON, July 31 — While summer is a traditional time for relaxation from studies in the United States, some students are enjoying their summer vacation by getting a step up on the new school year through learning activities that combine fun and education.
Through summer camps offered at Houston’s community centers or by going overseas in a study program, students of all ages learned how to make the most of their time before school begins fall classes in late August.
“I get to learn about math. I learned a song where the lyrics are math, so when I sing it, it makes more sense to me than when I write it,” said Gabby Martinez, age 9. “Now I’m looking forward to going into the fourth grade.”
Martinez is one of about 450 members of the Trotter Family YMCA that offers athletic, artistic and educational activities, mostly during the summer, to all ages. The 37 community centers of the nonprofit YMCA network in the Greater Houston area boasts nearly half a million members, about 160,000 of them children — about 10,000 children per day served — making it the largest activity center system for young people in average and budget outside the school districts.
“You have to give kids the opportunity to grow and learn, but you have to do it in a fun way,” said Taryn Baranowski, director of marketing and communications for the YMCA of Greater Houston. “Where kids have fun and feel they are learning something is where we feel we excel. The school ages are a big focus for us for our after-school and day-camp programs, and for our inner-city teens.”
“I play kick ball, dodge ball, do arts and crafts, swim and go on field trips to parks and museums,” said Cameron Malks, 11, who spends his time at the Trotter YMCA in activities that will better prepare him for fifth grade in the fall. “I like math and my favorite thing is playing kick ball and making arts and crafts.”
Jorja Brow, 10, will also be in the fifth grade in the fall and spends her time in the Trotter Family YMCA’s two Olympic-sized pools when she’s not studying in day camp.
“I taught myself swimming last year and it’s my favorite thing,” she said. “I also play dodge ball and a game where you stand in one place and throw the ball around and if you don’t catch it, you have to sit down.”
At age 15, Elliot Sam is preparing to enter high school this fall and he said he enjoys the sports and the social aspects of the Trotter YMCA.
“Being in the summer camp, I have met a lot of new people and gone on a lot of trips — to tag games, a pleasure pier, movies, other places — instead of staying at home, watching TV,” Sam said. “It’s really fun to get out and do stuff instead of being bored at home. We’re active almost every hour except for lunch.”
Martinez said she plans to continue coming to the YMCA after school starts and join Trotter’s after-school programs.
“You get together with friends here that you don’t see at school,” she said.
Across town at the Chinese Community Center, English-speaking students are learning Chinese and Chinese-speaking students are learning English in addition to their involvement in academic, athletic, field trip and arts and crafts programs, said Nine-Min Cheng, the center’s outreach director.
The intensive summer program is additional to the center’s Monday-through-Friday after-school and child development programs, as well as programs for other age groups including seniors, that run all year long, Cheng said.
“This year, we have about 100 youth summer campers. It’s a most ethnically diverse and age diverse group — ages 4 to 14 years old,” Cheng said. “We have a program this summer we call Chinese-In-Action, two three-week sessions, that is a Mandarin emersion class. It’s very popular, now that Chinese is one of the top world languages to learn. We have 41 campers in this program.”X In the closing ceremonies for the program, the Chinese-In-Action students will perform a stage version of the children’s story, “Snow White,” entirely in Mandarin, Cheng said.
“Monday through Friday, summer campers also study regular subjects such as social studies and math,” she said. “And every Tuesday, we go on tours to places like NASA, Moody Gardens, Splash Town for 11 weeks. We also have sports — ping pong, basketball or different kinds of physical education — and we also play a lot of games.”
Intensive English as a second language classes are popular from the third-grade level to the twelfth grade level, she said. Most of the students in the class are from mainland China.[db:内容2]

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