Off to Kansas, But No Toto in Sight

GARLAND L. THOMPSON

July 25, 1992|By GARLAND L. THOMPSON

Teachers go on sabbatical to get away from the classroom. News professionals take leaves of absence to return to it.That probably sums up as much as anything the approach of reporters to move at cross purposes to everyone else's attitude at any given time.

I am going off to teach subversion to a new generation of reporters. Next month, I start a journalist-in-residence tour at the University of Kansas as a Freedoms Forum fellow, teaching basic news writing, copy editing and commentary.

The university, in Lawrence, Kansas, sits atop what I'm told is the only ''mountain'' in the state, and it is certainly a pretty campus.

Lest anyone get too comfortable while I'm gone, however, I plan to send back a few columns about subjects that cry out for further exploration in this presidential year.

There are a few projects I'll leave uncompleted, but they are long-term and, fortunately, other people are working on them. One is Project 2000, about which I wrote before. Project 2000 gets black men from various fields to go into elementary school classrooms as volunteer teacher's helpers to work with inner-city youngsters, mostly boys.

My own experience with that, as Volunteer 001 at George Kelson Elementary School, taught me that girls in those classes need male teacher-mentors as much as the boys do. Spencer Holland, Morgan State University's Project 2000 honcho, thought the program up to help the boys, since so many come from single-parent homes.

I had a chance to work closely with some of Kelson's boys, but I found the girls often felt left out and started to demand attention, too. Which was perfectly understandable, so I often found myself paying closer attention to their needs. Kelson had a luncheon this spring for us vols, and I was pleased to find the corps had grown. I can't be in two places at once, so the new crew will have to carry on without me.

Ditto for the Granville Academy, which Bill Granville, Roland Livingston of CSX Intermodal, Derek Southard of Maryland National Corp. and I got going in Baltimore over the last school year. Mr. Granville, a Mobil Oil vice president, started the academy as an after-school, business coaching program for young people in his hometown, Trenton, N.J., nine years ago. It grew into a national program.

I wrote a Sun column about the Trenton Granville Academy's 1990 commencement, and when Bill started up a Washington-area branch, he also started hearing from business people in Baltimore. Before I could duck, he'd drafted me to chair the startup group.

Our academy's first eighth-grade class, supported by enthusiastic volunteers, took bus trips to Towson State University for classes taught by Baltimore business managers: members of the Urban Bankers Association. Lawyers. Publishing executives from Career Communications Group, whose founder, Tyrone Taborn, is on the Granville national board. Kermit Billups, of Legg Mason, invited the youngsters downtown for a field trip. Drew Hawkins, a Dean Witter account executive, gave a lesson on personal investing.

The academy will start with a new group in the fall and move the first group to Morgan State University, where Education Dean Pat Morris has taken an active interest. The volunteer corps, minus me for a while, is still going strong. The Abell Foundation funded the startup; CSX has also given funding and other firms are lining up.

Things can pile up when you are having fun. News professionals are careful about involvement in groups they might cover, but I also managed to get on the boards of Maryland MESA (Math, Science and Engineering Achievement) and the Homeless Persons Representation Project, which offers free legal counsel to the homeless. I will be derelict from duties with these groups, but I hope they'll let me slide.

For nine months, at least, while I teach scurrilous writing to unsuspecting new journalists. You can thank Kansas for that.

Garland L. Thompson writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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