A popular job skills program at Harpers Choice Middle School may be eliminated if a teacher cannot be found to organize it.
About 10 students wore green ribbons Thursday during the Howard County school board meeting to show their support for the program. The program enables eighth-graders to earn grades by volunteering their services in the community.
The 11-year-old program is in jeopardy because it is staffed from a pool of teachers, which has been reduced this year from 38 to 15, said James R. McGowan, associate superintendent of instruction and school administration. The pool places teachers in areas where they're needed.
Program advocates fear that the current coordinator, general studies teacher Julie Kayser, might be transferred to a different job and not replaced.
Mr. McGowan said he will not make a decision until Aug. 12, when he can determine which programs are in greatest need of teachers.
"The priorities of the system lay within the growth of the system," said Mr. McGowan. He said he is supportive of the program, which allows eighth-graders to work as aides at Harper's Choice Middle School, neighboring elementary schools, adult day care centers, and businesses.
Students also learn how to compose resumes, fill out job applications and have job interviews.
The benefits of the yearlong program long outlast the grades, supporters said.
"It gives students a good opportunity to learn about job skills, to provide a service to people within our school and to our community," said Ms. Kayser. About 160 students participated last year, she said.
"This is the most real-life experience that they'll get in the Howard County curriculum," said Janet Quirk, parent liaison for the middle school PTA.
Monica Francis, a 13-year-old Centennial High School freshman, who assisted physically and mentally disabled students at Cedar Lane School, said the program inspired her to change her career aspirations toward becoming a rehabilitation counselor. Before then, she had planned to be a lawyer.
She said the program also enabled her to get her first job as a summer counselor for a Howard County Department of Recreations and Parks day camp.
Michelle Dvoskin, a 14-year-old Wilde Lake High School freshman, said working with disabled children at Cedar Lane School boosted her self-confidence.
"This has made me a lot more comfortable with the more severely handicapped kids," said Michelle.
Participants also said the program increased their self-esteem.
Recipients have also benefited from the program, said Monica, who recalled befriending a shy, overweight female student at Cedar Lane School last year.
"She doesn't speak much, but she had a lot to say when I came into the room," Monica said of the student. "It feels so wonderful to see them open up to you."
In other business, the school board approved a $38,158 Maryland State Department of Education grant that will provide tutorial and readiness classes for homeless children. The grant will extend an existing three-month program, making it available throughout the school year.
A teacher from the district's Home and Hospital Program will meet with students twice a week at the Grassroots shelter in Columbia, and once a week at the Copper Stallion Inn in Elkridge and Brown's Motel in Ellicott City.
The teacher also will conduct parent education workshops at the shelters to help parents learn how how to assist their children with homework.
The grant will also cover transportation costs to nearby schools and medical appointments and the cost of clothing.