Marine School For Troubled Boys Tries To Stay Afloat

November 15, 1991|By Michael R. Driscoll | Michael R. Driscoll,Staff writer

The Fort Smallwood Marine Institute might offer an alternative to the state's prison system, but recent budget woes have left the Pasadena school robbing Peter to pay Paul.

It is the school's mission to rescue troubled adolescent boys -- sent there by the courts -- who are trying to overcome a variety of problems and circumstances such as poverty, urban crime, drugs, truancy or just getting lost in overcrowded educational systems.

Since the school gets the majority of its financial support from the state -- about $35,000 comes from private sources -- it has been forced to shift money earmarked for the long-term expansion simply tokeep operating. The school could lose about $260,000 of its $435,000budget for fiscal 1992.

Mike Scanlon, the executive director, says that the community gets back an immense dividend, in the form of useful and productive citizens, from the state tax dollars spent on theprogram.

The biggest return, he said, is that "the community getssomeone who's going to go out and be a productive citizen. He's going to be working -- and not committing crimes."

Scanlon described the typical Fort Smallwood student as "someone who has made a lot of poor decisions, gotten caught up in crime and started pulling their families and communities downhill. We put that to a stop and start themmoving in a forward direction. Lots of times we find that our kids are not devoid of moral values, it's just that they get carried away in something and stop using them."

Part of a national program for troubled teen-agers, the Florida-based Associated Marine Institutes Inc., the program combines academic courses with such activities as sailing, scuba diving and swimming. It is designed to build self-esteem and confidence and to help up to 30 students at a time find jobs.

Wade Hayes, 18, of Glen Burnie is a recent graduate who said without reservation that the Fort Smallwood program is "definitely worth it."

"I had an attitude problem when I came here, but that's calmed down. I used to like to tell people what to do, instead of them tellingme what to do. Now I just listen, and I've been doing pretty good. Now I have the ability to go out on my own."

Michael Herron, a 17-year-old from Baltimore, is enrolled in the program.

"It gives a lot of kids another chance at life. There's more to life than the city streets, selling drugs. When you come here, they give you the chance to do anything that you would like to do. They give you some regular schooling, then they take you outside on the boats. There are always activities, you can have fun and an education."

"This school is worth the money," says recent graduate, Michael Lyles, 17, of Baltimore. "It can save a lot of people from going down that road to places like Jessup (where the Maryland Correctional Institute and similar facilities are located).

"It's made a good impression on me, a lastingimpression," said Lyles. "Since I came to this program, they've taught me a lot about responsibility and about respect."

Lyles was in the program almost five months. The typical stay ranges from six to eight months. He attributed his success to his attitude.

"I came into this program, not because I was forced to, but because I wanted to. A lot of guys don't get that choice. Most of the guys come because they are forced by the court. I was able to pick whether I wanted to come here or not, and it was a good experience."

Lyles, who works in a Glen Burnie specialty carwash, had mixed feelings about leaving the school, admitting, "I was glad to move on into the working world,but I miss the program. It gave me something to do in the morning, as far as coming here and being with a lot of guys I liked being with.But now it's time for me to take that next step."

But Herron, whohas plans to become a carpenter, says, "I wouldn't mind coming back here to be a student counselor for kids like me. I think that would be fun."

Herron was sent to the institute by the authorities in Baltimore. He described the variety of experiences he'd enjoying since coming, such as basketball, sailing and a better education.

"When Iwake up in the morning, I can come here. It's nice to have some place to go, besides sleeping all day and getting in trouble all night. I've learned algebra here, which I never did before, and I've learned how to sail and to steer the big tugboats."

Lyles, who candidly admitted that his chronic truancy had gotten him locked up at one point, said that he finally appealed to his probation officer to find a place that would "take kids like myself away from the inner city area and help them study for the GED (high school equivalency certification)."

Lyles was especially interested in attending Fort Smallwood after learning the school might send him on a trip to Florida, among other things. "It was myself and five other guys that went down there,"Lyles said, "and we all got along. The atmosphere was real good."

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