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Kids of fair workers get schooling as they travel

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Travel teaches us much about the world but it is no substitute for learning to read and write.

The families associated with Powers Great American Midways are giving their children both experiences.

Corky Powers, the owner of the midway show that recently finished its run at the 95th annual Pitt County American Legion Agricultural Fair, operates a traveling school for the children of fair employees.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, the five students of the Great American Academy study English, math, science and history under the guidance of their teacher J.C. Moritz.

The academy functions like a one-room school house except it operates out of a converted trailer.

Moritz's students range in age from 8-16. They are sisters Morgan, Brooke and Camryn Thomas, ages 16, 13 and 8, and brothers Matteo and Michael Simonian, ages 13 and 11.

The girls are Powers' granddaughters and the boys are the stepsons of the midway's public relations director, Marc Janas.

"It's well worth it because it keeps families together," Jonas said. "It's important to keep family together."

Janas is a fourth generation carnival worker. When he grew up, his mother stayed home with the children so they could attend school. They joined their father on the circuit during the summer and he would return home in the winter.

Janas said it was a structure that gave him the best of both worlds. However, the academy allows the family to stay together all the time and to share the same schedule.

Janas also likes the experiences the children receive, whether it is helping out with the games and food stands or from field trips taken in the communities where they work.

"I think sometimes there isn't enough interest in hands-on activities in schools," Janas said. "But this gives you a look at every day, real life and business."

Moritz worked the carnival circuit for 13 years, doing everything from operating rides to managing games, prior to earning her bachelor's and master's degrees in education. She then worked 13 years as education coordinator at Buehler Planetarium in Hollywood, Fla., and taught at a nearby college.

When budget cuts eliminated her position, Moritz, 68, started searching the Web for a job. One day she saw an advertisement, "carnival needs a school teacher."

"I said that's me. A regular teacher wouldn't understand the carnival life," Moritz said. Unfortunately that carnival closed several months after she joined the operation but she soon found another show.

Powers Great American Midways is her third carnival school and she has been with it 10 years.

Because she works with a wide range of ages, Moritz focuses on independent study.

"When they are in kindergarten I tell them they will have to read their own directions in their books next year because I have other students I have to work with," she said.

Moritz begins by reviewing the new topic of study with the student, and then demonstrates the process they are learning.

If the subject is math, Moritz said she will show the student how to do one or two problems and then they will work on several problems and she will review their progress.

"I expect a lot out of them because they are so good," she said.

The younger children mainly use workbooks in their studies. Morgan, 16, is a sophomore at the online Keystone School.

"I'm kind of the guinea pig in this thing," Morgan said. She was among the school's original students when it launched 12 years ago. At one time Moritz taught eight children, but three left the school when their parents settled in Florida.

The girls have never been in a traditional school setting. Matteo and Michael briefly attended traditional classes when they were young. The boys prefer the academy.

"It was a lot different," Michael said. "The structure was different. We couldn't go up and ask (the teacher) for help. She taught all of us at the same time. We spent a lot of time coloring." Michael was in preschool at the time.

Morgan said she occasionally wishes she was more like her friends in Wilmington, where her family lives off-season.

"But I think it's better here. It's easier to learn more," she said.

Along with the basic curriculum, Morgan also is studying Spanish, which she puts to use when she helps her mother operate one of the midway's food stands.

Powers purchased the trailer and its truck and pays for its upkeep and travel expenses. The parents pay Moritz's salary, Janas said. During the school year the families hold fundraisers to pay for books and other educational materials.

People in the communities they visit also are supporters, Moritz said. A member of a Greenville church gave the school an atlas this week.

At one time about a dozen carnivals operated schools, Janas said. Today, Powers and one other midway operator are the only remaining schools, he said.

"It provides a good atmosphere for (the children), and as for the field trips, they get to see different things every week," Janas said.

When the midway is in Connecticut and New York state the families make sure the children visit New York City, Janas said.

A Time for Science, a science education center based in Pitt County, hosted a showing of its inflatable planetarium at this week's fair. Moritz and her students were the first in line, mainly because astronomy is Camryn's favorite subject.

Their school year is the carnival season, April through November. They get a two-week break in the summer. "I guest you would call that our winter break," Morgan said.

The states of North Carolina and Florida, where the children live during the off-season, classify them as home-schooled students so every year they are administered the Iowa Test to measure their progress.

When the carnival season ends in November the families return to Wilmington for their winter break. It is at that time the children participate in volleyball, horseback riding, youth league and other extracurricular activities.

The children said they like these experiences but they love carnival life. They love trying out the rides, especially when they get to add their own spin. One of their favorites involves putting whiffle balls in the spinning cages of the Zipper and being inside when everything starts spinning and bouncing about.

Morgan is excited about the upcoming North Carolina State Fair because Powers is debuting a new ride that spins the riders upside down. She can't wait to try it out.

Moritz said she loves that she has had this unique teaching experience. Most educators struggle in crowded settings that barely allow them to learn their students' names, much less their parents. In this setting, she and the parents work in a partnership.

Moritz said her greatest achievement is knowing she taught Brooke, Matteo, Michael and Camryn how to read. And the best compliment she ever received came from Morgan.

"I heard them talking a few years ago when they were on break and I over heard one of them ask if they should tell Ms. Moritz (about an issue) and Morgan said yes, she's like mom," Moritz said.

"I call them my kids," Moritz said. "If I'm going some place and go to an education store to pick up some supplies I always say I'm picking up things for my kids."


Information from: The Daily Reflector,

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