College Bound clears the path to a degree Program helps family pioneers HOWARD COUNTY EDUCATION

November 30, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

In yesterday's Howard County edition, a student was incorrectly identified in a photo caption accompanying an article about Joe Fisher, founder of First Generation College Bound Inc. The student is Jessica Roy-Harrison.

The caption also should have made clear that Miss Roy-Harrison is a student in Mr. Fisher's class at Harpers Choice Middle School and not involved in the College Bound program.

The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

The message on Joe Fisher's classroom bulletin board itelling of his attitude: striving for excellence.

And if not excellence, at least effort.

Two years ago, the Harper's Choice Middle School social studies and science teacher started non-profit First Generation College Bound, Inc. in Laurel. The program helps students whose parents did not go to college strive for something more than a high school diploma. A Laurel resident, he works with first- to twelfth-graders, but primarily high-schoolers, in Kimberly Gardens, a 50-unit subsidized housing development in Prince George's County. He also helps students elsewhere -- in Anne Arundel and Howard counties as well as in Washington, D.C.


"These kids are coming from homes where the parents never went to college and didn't think they could afford it," he said. "They've probably never been to a college before. The resources are already out there to help our clients. We find those resources, and we encourage our kids to develop that winning attitude and to build an education foundation."

More than 250 students -- all from low- and moderate-income families -- went through his program last year. They took trips to see plays and tour college campuses, held fund-raising car washes and celebrated high grades with luncheons and dinners sponsored by local restaurants. High school seniors learned how to apply to colleges, how to fill out financial aid forms and how to take the SATs.

"Our theme is bridging the home, church, school and community for success," he said. "We get our clients to develop a winning attitude for education. We push them."

Close to 40 high school graduates who've never considered going to college are going this year to about 20 different colleges inside and outside the state. And soon-to-be graduates who've gotten low grades -- like Wilde Lake High School senior Anthony Jackson -- are striving for high ones.

"He made me think I could really get into college," said Anthony, 17, who has improved his grades from "Cs" to "Bs". "Before, it was like, I wanted to go [to college], but I didn't know if I could make it. It was a like a dream. But now, he's made me realize I could do it."

"Mr. Fisher puts drive in young kids," said Robert Myers, Anthony's father. "He gives Anthony a lot of drive and makes him more ambitious and lets him know he can be someone someday."

Mr. Fisher's secret? Show them someone cares. "We don't know how important it is to show people we care," he said. "That can do a lot. When people sense that, you can get a lot out of them."

While his program has been aimed at disadvantaged youths in Prince George's, he hopes to start a similar program here in three years if he can get grants to help fund it.

Mr. Fisher and his four brothers and three sisters themselves are first-generation college graduates. His father dropped out of high school and his mother, the sixth grade. She later earned her GED at age 49.

Both parents were positive influences, said Mr. Fisher, whose high school track coach encouraged him to work hard to earn an athletic scholarship to Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. "They were always willing to reach out and take care of their kids, willing to reach out and take advantage of resources to get their kids ahead. My father taught us to care for other people, and my mother was involved in church activities."

Mr. Fisher grew up in Southeast D.C. in the 1950s in a public housing development, part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's war on poverty program. People were poor, as they are now, but back then, they cared about the neighborhood and its upkeep. Lady Bird Johnson -- in a red suit and pearl earrings -- even came to admire the community's beautification program, Mr. Fisher remembers. "Just by her coming showed that she cared -- that somebody cared," he said.

Now it seems that nobody in that neighborhood cares anymore, he said. Grass is unkempt, trash is in alleyways and bars are on windows. Ten students from the middle school he attended died this year alone in drug-related incidents.

"From where I started, I can see the value and importance of education. It bothers me when kids don't have an option. What are they going to do?"

He did not see what needed to be done until he worked with juvenile delinquents in Baltimore City Jail as part of an internship with his urban studies graduate program at Morgan State. He helped them as he is helping his disadvantaged youths now -- he even set up a PTA among family members in jail.

First Generation College Bound, Inc. is accepting donations to continue and expand the program. Tax-deductible donations can sent to 10302 Snowden Road, Laurel, Md., 20708.

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