Baltimore County's summer computer camp holds a mirror to ability Youngsters discover sense of self-worth

August 05, 1991|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Lalita Dortch has had "mirror therapy," and it shows.

The 13-year-old from Dundalk Middle School rattled off things she learned from the therapy session. "I learned to believe in myself. I learned I can accomplish things. I learned not to just sit back and wait for things to happen but to make them happen," Lalita said.

She learned these things while attending a summer computer campheld in St. Matthew's United Methodist Church in Turners Station, a community south of Dundalk.

So what do computers have to do with "mirror therapy" and Lalita's strong self-esteem?

The children spend only half their time at the camp working on computers. The other half is spent working on themselves, said Hattie N. Washington, the camp director.

Dr. Washington uses her "mirror therapy" to help children feel better about themselves and their accomplishments.

"I have a full-length mirror in the room," she said. "I tell them to look in the mirror, particularly after they have mastered a lesson, and I ask them to tell me what they see."

The neophytes of what she calls the "Hattie Washington Mirror Therapy" will usually peep in the mirror and softly answer, "I see me," Dr. Washington said.

She tells them what they see is a smart, beautiful person, and eventually their responses change. "I am nice. I am beautiful. I am great," the children say.

"I want to reach these kids at a very, very early age before they say 'I can't do it,' " Dr. Washington said. She strongly believes that achieving and succeeding in life start "with the thought first."

The seven-week summer computer camp, which held closing ceremonies Friday, was funded by the Associated Black Charities and the Baltimore County Department of Community Development, with the support of other organizations.

The 10 computers were donated by Apple Computer Inc. and the National Urban Coalition.

In addition to Dr. Washington, who is a professor at Bowie State University, there were two certified teachers.

The 79 children came from Chapter 1 programs in the Turners Station area and were recommended by their teachers, said Dunbar Brooks, a school board member who helped set the program up. (Under Chapter 1, the largest federal program of aid to elementary and secondary schools, remedial services are provided to educationally disadvantaged students, mostly from low-and moderate-income homes.)

"We asked schools to identify kids who, while not failing, needed help," Mr. Brooks said.

The camp ran three days a week for the children and five days for the teachers, who worked on staff development when their students weren'tthere. The children were divided into morning and afternoon groups.

One hour was devoted to working on computers while the second was spent talking about personal goals, taking quizzes or playing games.

"Sometimes they just want to chat," Dr. Washington said.

Generally, the children were in pre-kindergarten to seventh grade, although one 17-month-old child attended.

Parents were urged to attend and help out with their children, Dr. Washington said. "There is a direct correlation between parent involvement and student achievement," she said. The community, she said, provides the other link.

Gwen Childers, who is Lalita's mother, appreciated that the children were taken on a field trip to Bowie State University.

"It was a nice thing for her to be inside of a college," Mrs. Childers said of her daughter.

"She got a chance to look around, and she said the students didn't look too much older than her."

Lalita didn't originally want to attend the computer camp. "I didn't want to come. I didn't think it would be fun. I thought it would be too much like school," she said.

Adrienne Hall, 12, did want to attend. Besides computers, the Dundalk Middle School student worked on math, language and self-esteem. "I liked how they believe in us that we could accomplish things," Adrienne said.

James Evans, 12, already has his sights set on being an engineer. At the awards ceremony, the dapper young man, dressed in a suit and tie, already looked the part.

"I'm working on computers," said James, who is also from Dundalk Middle School. "And I'm working on my self-esteem."

Dr. Washington, who said she "desperately" needs more computers, is hoping to get other grants so the lessons can continue.

The children learned not just about computers, but how to learn, she said.

"We want them to raise their grade-point average at least 1 point. We are looking for excellence," she said.

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