Mideast Unrest Unsettles School Children

Departures Bring Gulf Crisis Home For County Students

September 13, 1990|By Dianne Williams Hayes | Dianne Williams Hayes,SUN STAFF

The world is shrinking for 15-year-old Vin Gerrior. The oil-rich Arab state of Kuwait never meant much to him before, but he is paying close attention now that the family friend he refers to as "Uncle" was sent to help maintain peace in the Persian Gulf.

His mischievous grin fades somewhat when the class discussion shifts to Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator who led the Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait. When history teacher Virginia Crespo asked her history class at Broadneck High who had a friend or relative involved in the Mideast crisis, the 11th-grader quickly raised his hand.

"We teach the class along with current events and use them as case studies," Crespo said. "It gives them a much more in-depth understanding of what's happening. There is so much to sort out and so much to put into perspective."

Sporting one of his favorite baseball caps, Vin takes a moment to think about the man who had wanted to see the Orioles play the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, but left for the Mideast three weeks ago.

"I went to Boston to see the game and sent him a poster of Roger Clemens," Vin said. "He loves Boston."

Knowing someone in the Mideast has made him more aware of current events, Vin says.

"I listen to the news more than I probably would, normally. I probably wouldn't be paying attention."

Vin clearly is not alone. During Crespo's class polls, she has found that at least six students in each class have had family members or close friends in the Middle East.

Mai-Anh Preis, 16, one of Vin's classmates, said her biggest fear is the threat of a war -- one that would involve her cousin, who is in the Navy.

"It worries me that if we go to war I might never see him again," Mai-Anh said.

The impact of hostile actions by Hussein in the Persian Gulf is having a far-reaching effect. County students are feeling the anxiety of the unknown as their history lessons become more personal. Even Crespo is uncomfortable with the topic.

She admits she has her own concerns, with both a brother in the Air Force and nephew in the Army now serving in Saudi Arabia.

"The fact that Americans are over there makes it intensely personal for me and my students," Crespo said. "I didn't like teaching about Vietnam. I don't want this to be like that."

In a county that includes two major military installations -- the Naval Academy in Annapolis and Fort Meade -- fears of what may happen if U.S. troops are forced to clash with Iraqi armies is causing increasing concern. And school officials are positioning themselves to help students cope with those feelings.

Ken Lawson, assistant superintendent for support services, said a crisis intervention team is on stand-by to help students. Principals, teachers, pupil personnel workers and guidance counselors are on alert to monitor changes in student behavior that may stem from stress related to the crisis.

Principals are reporting few referrals, even though informal polls show the issue is very much on the minds of students. Though the fears are obvious, many students and their families seem to be quietly addressing them.

One officer living at Fort Meade was reluctant to discuss the matter, since he had just received notice of deployment. Saying his two young children were having a hard time handling the news, he declined to have them comment.

"It is a hard time for the family," he said. "We have our own way of dealing with it as a family. To be honest, that's the way it is normally handled."

Subtle reminders of possible unrest in the Mideast are cropping up throughout the county, as large yellow ribbons show up on the doors of homes and businesses.

And as tension mounts, school officials are much more jumpy these days. Former Annapolis and Arundel High Principal Kenneth Nichols, on assignment in the school system's office of instruction, refused to allow students to be interviewed in the Fort Meade area, citing possible "terrorist retaliation."

"We can't take any chances," Nichols said.

County Council candidate David Boschert has offered a helping hand -- legislation to provide schools with more psychologists until the crisis is over.

"With the magnitude of what's going on in the Middle East," Boschert said, 'I feel we have to be ready to move in now and take the initiative. They (the Board of Education) are evaluating the situation and will let me know if I do need to do something."

Boschert, a Marine reservist, said he is awaiting a call for duty. He already is working with his teen-age daughter, a student at Old Mill, to help her adjust.

While school officials welcome the support from Boschert, they are hoping to handle any problems with existing staff -- unless the crisis worsens.

"We are trying to be sensitive to it," school Superintendent Larry L. Lorton said. "We have alerted the staff, but it is not merely students in Fort Meade. We've got students all over the county who may be affected."

Copyright The Baltimore Sun 1990

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