Ellicott City, Baltimore schools forge a friendship

November 23, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Seven-year-old Jennifer Chiang and six-year-old Sharda Wright come from two different worlds -- one from a comfortable suburb with rolling green pastures and the other from a city with littered alleyways and abandoned rowhouses.

But they didn't see the difference -- or at least they didn't know it -- and they became friends, despite the awkwardness of getting to know each other at first.

They shared crayons and scissors, ran around on the playground and held hands in the lunch line as they waited for their food.

The two girls represented one of many new friendships made last week between students from Ellicott City's Worthington and Baltimore's Robert W. Coleman elementary schools.

They were also symbolic of the new partnership that was formed between the predominantly white suburban and the predominantly black inner-city school.

Parents, teachers and administrators, who had worked together for a year on the partnership, were ecstatic.

"We really weren't sure how they were going to react to one another," said Coleman principal Addie Johnson. "Most of the time, [my students] don't see people of other cultures."

Worthington has a 6 percent Asian and a 5 percent black population, and its pupils don't see many children from different backgrounds, said principal Fran Donaldson.

"It's a different environment, living in the city rather than living here," she said. "Our kids don't have the opportunity to be in a situation where they are exposed to children elsewhere. We live in a multicultural society and we need to learn to live together."

"I love it," said Marsha McKoy, parent of a Coleman first-grader. "I see how the kids get together and work together, children meeting children from different back grounds. When they're this young, they don't know anything about racism."

The idea for the partnership came last year from Worthington parent Katie Jasinski, who had watched a CNN program in which Coleman principal Mrs. Johnson pledged to try her best to teach her inner-city kids, despite lack of books and resources.

"I was touched and impressed by Mrs. Johnson," said Mrs. Jasinski, who has a kindergartner, second-grader and fourth-grader at the school. "So many times we see things on the news and read things in the newspaper, and we say, 'Oh, that's terrible,' and we get back into our comfort zone and do nothing about it," she said. "I wanted to do something about it."

Mrs. Jasinski wrote the principal a letter, asking what she could do to help. Mrs. Johnson responded that she needed books to fill her empty library shelves, setting the wheels in motion for Worthington to sponsor a book drive and brainstorm on what else it could do.

"This is a principal's dream come true," said Mrs. Johnson. "Just to see involvement between two schools, just to see the relationship among the students. It shows a city and a county school can work together and bring about change."

Mrs. Johnson said she admired the number of books Worthington had and longed for the gym equipment on the playground.

"If I had play areas like this, just to get the kids to school to play, I'd be able to teach them," she said.

Six school buses and eight Coleman kindergarten and first-grade classes, along with a handful of teachers and parents, visited Worthington. During the day, students sang songs, cut and pasted Thanksgiving decals and sat attentively as parents from the two schools read books to them. They screamed together as they ran on the playground and then waited patiently as they stood in the lunch line to get a pre-Thanksgiving meal of turkey, cranberries and mashed potatoes.

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