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DURING `VACATION,' KIDS BASK IN WARM, NEW EXPERIENCES

Even when Maeser Elementary School isn't officially in session, the building buzzes with activity.

Classrooms are filled with children tumbling to rock music, learning sign language in silence and hacking away at computers.Now on a single-track, year-round schedule, Maeser offers a wide range of elective classes during its two three-week breaks. Attendance is optional. More than half of the school's 530 students registered for courses.

Principal Kim Langton believes intersession provides children with a glimpse of the real world, something he says the education system doesn't do very well. Educators need to make school more pertinent to children's lives, he said.

"I feel like if a kid is bored with school it's because he's not learning things that relate to the real world. We have to bridge that gap. I think intersession does that," Langton said.

In addition to skill and enrichment classes, math and reading are taught during the two-week period. Students and teacher are off for the third week of the intersession.

During intersession, Langton taught a class in journalism that took a field trip to a television station. He said his students now read newspapers and watch TV news more than they did before the class.

Maeser PTA President Sue Russell likes intersession and the year-round schedule.

"My personal opinion is the more education the better. Your kids can't be overeducated I don't think," she said. "It's really a fun two weeks."

But not every parent likes the schedule.

"It's not working in our family," said Kathy Ludlow. Only one of her five children attends Maeser, making family trips difficult to coordinate. In the summer, older children are out of school for three weeks before the six-week summer vacation begins at Maeser.

As for intersession, Ludlow says "the school is trying to do too much for families." She said parents should play a greater role in educating their children.

Kendra Wall said her two children at Maeser enjoy the classes.

"It kind of keeps their brains going all the time," she said.

Ludlow said she's also concerned about the cost of intersession courses. "We really can't afford to pay for intersession," she said. Her son didn't attend.

The school charges $25 for one child, $40 for two and $55 for three or more. Tuition waivers are granted to families who can't pay. Langton said 102 children received full or partial waivers.

Intersession also increases costs for the Provo School District, mostly in teachers' salaries.

However, the district was awarded a $1 million grant last week for latchkey kid programs, which could be applied to intersession. Langton said the two-week courses keep children busy who otherwise may be home alone if their parent or parents work during the day.

Langton said the grant could be used for extending intercession days to include later afternoon or evening activities, hiring more teachers and buying better equipment and supplies.

The principal said he'd like to see intersession become a regular part of the curriculum.