'Lamp' Enlightens Young Minds Harford County

March 21, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

Teachers and principals say it has increased attendance, improved grades, raised self-esteem and the amount of homework turned in -- and it hasn't cost Harford County taxpayers a dime.

The Learning and Mentoring Program (LAMP), which started at Aberdeen High School a year ago as a way to help students at risk of dropping out, expanded this year to the six elementary schools and Aberdeen Middle School.

That more than doubled the program's size, bringing together about 237 students and 189 mentors, including teachers, custodians, librarians and principals, who offer not only help with homework, but also an ear to troubled kids who need someone to listen, or a hug at the end of a hard day.

"The way I see the mentoring program, it's a chance for children to have a one-on-one relationship with an adult who is not an automatic authority figure," said William D. Gunn, principal at Hillsdale Elementary School.

At Hillsdale Elementary, 15 employees, including Mr. Gunn, a librarian, an instructional assistant and teachers, are mentors in LAMP. About 18 children are involved.

One of Mr. Gunn's charges is Ricky, a fourth-grader who needs help with math. The two meet after school two to five days every week. "Mr. Gunn helps me with my work sheets and my homework," Ricky said. And Mr. Gunn let him use his calculator, the 10-year-old said.

Mr. Gunn, who tutors two other students as well as Ricky, said LAMP mentors at his school meet formally with students to help them with homework at least once a week but are always willing to listen and offer encouragement.

Robert S. Magee, principal at Aberdeen High School, started LAMP two years ago "on a shoestring" budget as a way to reach students who were at risk of dropping out. "We are trying to help students who are not performing where they are supposed to be performing. You can't wait until the student gets to high school and then try to play catch-up," he said.

This year, Jane Fleming, an English teacher at Aberdeen High School who now coordinates the LAMP program full time, expanded the program to Aberdeen Middle School and six elementary schools. They are: Bakerfield, Churchville, Hall's 0` Cross Roads, Hillsdale, Roye-Williams and William Paca/Old Post Road.

"The best time to reach children is when they are young," Mrs. Fleming said. "In many cases high school is too late."

The program gets high marks from the school system as a long-term solution for poor study habits.

"The LAMP program is an outstanding example of what people who care are doing to help our young people," said George Lisby, school board member. "And they work without remuneration."

Children in the program don't necessarily have behavioral problems or learning disabilities but do need adult guidance, Mrs. Fleming said. Mentors work one-on-one with children on everything from homework to self-esteem.

"Sometimes children work better with someone who is not a parent," Mrs. Fleming said.

And many times, parents are more willing to call a child's mentor and ask for help than a teacher, she said.

This year the LAMP program got financial support from grants, including the Federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Fund, provide study skills books and formal training. Mrs. Fleming also edits a monthly newsletter to keep mentors informed about the program.

At Hillsdale, Mr. Gunn helps link students with a volunteer mentor. Once a child agrees to work with a mentor, he or she is encouraged to continue for at least a year.

Jeffrey Webster, an instructional assistant at Hillsdale, mentors two fourth-grade boys tagged as "behavior problems." He helps the children with their homework but, more important, believes he is providing them with a positive role model.

"I take them places outside of school, such as to basketball games. Kids need a lot of love and attention and a little bit of pushing," he said. "Sadly, a lot of children don't get enough attention at home."

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