EULESS -- Just past the crowded basketball court, near a small, glistening swimming pool, five third-graders sat riveted as teacher Brenda Fuller mixed hydrogen peroxide and Alka-Seltzer.
"This one has a danger zone," Fuller instructed. "Stand back."
By the end of the day, the children would read and discuss books, play a board game designed to teach them math skills, and fine-tune their improvisational acting abilities.
They were among 20 children taking part in Bridges of Tarrant County, a new organization that aims to provide education and enrichment during the summer, when many students fall behind in basic skills such as reading and math.
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Low-income students lose far more ground in reading during the summer, an average of two months per year, than their higher-income peers, who often make slight gains, according to a recent report by the RAND Corp., a nonprofit research institution.
With that in mind, Bridges turned part of Post Oak East Apartments into a makeshift school with classrooms and an outdoor science laboratory. Bridges worked with Stonegate Elementary School, where roughly 67 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged, and teachers identified 31 students living at the apartments who would benefit from the program.
"Kids lose ground over the summer, and you spend the first few weeks of school reviewing," said Darla Clark, assistant principal at Stonegate. "With high-stakes testing, we have to hit the ground running. The bar has to be raised."
Bridges is run by Jan Morgan, a former Carroll school district administrator, and her husband, Randy, a former administrator from Hurst-Euless-Bedford schools. Both retired last year.
Wanting to start a program similar to one in Denton County, the Morgans received a $5,000 grant from their church, Martin United Methodist in Bedford, plus two anonymous $2,000 gifts.
The money would provide teacher salaries, instructional materials and student lunches, but Morgan would not have enough for a facility rental fee or for transportation to take the students to and from school. So Morgan decided to bring school to the students at Post Oak, which frequently partners with Stonegate Elementary and the H-E-B school district to provide space for tutoring and other needs.
"Everything happens for a reason," Jan Morgan said. "And this turned out better than we could have expected."
Teachers left letters at apartments inviting students to the two-week school, and in many cases came back to encourage them to attend.
"A lot of the kids were just watching TV or not doing anything," Morgan said. "There's just not a whole lot to do."
On the first day of school, teachers knocked on doors and roused students from sleep. Each morning, school begins with a motivational talk from a community leader, such as Trinity High School football coach Steve Lineweaver or H-E-B Superintendent Gene Buinger.
Bridges has a small religious component, and some leaders read Bible verses.
Class sizes are small, usually five to seven, and students get much one-on-one attention. In a reading class, students repeatedly tried to sound out words; for science, each student got to help prepare an experiment. In theater class, students picked hats from a basket and created characters like witches, Southern belles, police officers or cowboys. Next week, students will learn about Chinese art, language and culture.
Jade Goodson, 10, who will be in the fifth grade, spent her summer swimming and playing outside until Bridges began.
"This is the best thing that happened to me this summer," Jade said. "I get to play with my friends and learn and read."
Kani Bridgewater, 8, who will be in the third grade, said Bridges has been more fun than regular school.
"We think we're just playing," Kani said, "but really we're learning,"
Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056