$243,704 to build kids' character

February 19, 1993|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

In an attempt to fill what Baltimore school officials see as a serious void in the current curriculum, United Way of Central Maryland is providing $243,704 to teach students good character and effective citizenship.

The program, to be phased in at 67 elementary and middle schools this year and next, and expanded to 83 other schools after that, comes at a time of renewed emphasis nationwide on teaching values in public schools.

Last year, Maryland became the first state in the country to make 75 hours of community service a requirement for high school graduation, a controversial mandate also intended to build character and citizenship. Some state lawmakers are attempting to overturn that requirement, which goes into effect for incoming ninth-graders this fall.

The state also requires students to pass a battery of functional tests that includes a citizenship test in order to get a high school diploma.

In Baltimore, only 85.5 percent of 11th-grade students passed the citizenship test in the 1991-1992 school year, compared with 95.6 percent statewide. The minimum percentage considered "satisfactory" by the state is 97 percent.

Maurice B. Howard, the city school system's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said he was "really thrilled" with the United Way grant. The program will help "get kids ready for the student service component at the middle-school and high-school levels," he said. Mr. Howard added that the city's current curriculum "has some character education within it. . . Values are taught, whether we want them taught or not. You can't have a 'value free' curriculum."

Mel Tansill, a spokesman for United Way, said the grant reflects his organization's interest in issues affecting families.

"It's an opportunity to maximize the impact of United Way dollars an area where the support is critically needed right now," he said.

The United Way grant will pay for educational materials intended to teach and reinforce certain "core values," according to school system and United Way spokesmen. Among those values are mutual self-respect; truthfulness; love of country; and respect for the U.S. Constitution, democratic principles and the law.

The grant will put character education kits, prepared by the nonprofit Character Education Institute, of San Antonio, Texas, in the hands of more than 1,400 teachers initially. It also will pay the salary of a full-time staff person to work with the program for a year.

The program also calls for the city to measure the effect the values curriculum may have on student behavior, including in the areas of substance abuse, teen-age pregnancy, cheating and school violence.

The need for such a program is graphically evident, said Mr. Howard, citing Wednesday night's fatal shooting of a 16-year-old in West Baltimore, apparently in a dispute over money or drugs.

"The values we are teaching call for a respect for others," he said. "It's something that all youngsters need."

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