Howard Co. tutor touches lives of homeless children

June 15, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Cathy Henry travels the far reaches of Howard County -- one of the wealthiest counties in the nation -- to tutor homeless children, and her heart can't help but tug for them.

They live in shelters and, like their parents, are unsure of their future. They are transient and live out of suitcases, often in cramped rooms. School, for most, is the last of their worries and an area in which all too often they fall behind.

"The hardest part is not trying to get too emotionally involved, because you see so many heart-wrenching children, so many stories of misfortune," she says.

Her job is two-fold: help bring remedial students up to speed in their schoolwork, and prepare others -- like pre-schoolers -- for school. She's in constant contact with teachers, asking what they're covering in classes so she can match her lessons and telling them where her students need help.

She even stays in contact with children whose families eventually find homes -- like brown-haired twins Kevin and Keith Barnes, who recently moved out of the Grassroots shelter in Columbia into a church-sponsored home in Columbia.

Although the homeless problem in Howard is not as prevalent as in major cities or even other counties, "even if we have only 50 children who are coming from a shelter, we don't want those children falling behind other children," said Peter Finck, a supervisor in the school's pupil personnel office.

"Children in shelters are typically below grade level compared with their schoolmates," he said. "We suspect students without tutoring help would be slipping back further because they change schools so often. Our hope is to at least avoid the slippage. If we could keep them on grade level, we would be successful."

Ms. Henry works out of two locations and under a $38,000 state grant the Department of Education is trying to renew today. She has a regular stream of kids at the Grassroots shelter, next to Atholton High School, where she has a room to hold class and a closet to stash coloring books, pens, papers and other materials.

She also works out of the Copper Stallion motel in Elkridge, where the county rents rooms for homeless families. Motel owners have provided her with a desk in an empty room. Ms. Henry, who tutored close to 40 homeless children this year, doesn't know if she'll see any of them again next week. They may be gone.

"The hard part is you see them a month or two, then they move onto somewhere else," she says. "It's hard to see their growth."

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