Some city kids get 'private' help with learning Math and reading, the Sylvan way BALTIMORE CITY

June 25, 1993|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,Staff Writer

In a converted classroom with air conditioning and plush carpeting, students sat at computers yesterday, working to improve their math and reading skills.

The students sat about 18 inches from an instructor in a desk arrangement that accommodates only three pupils at a time.

The environment provided by Sylvan Learning Systems clashes sharply with the rest of the classrooms at Fort Worthington Elementary School in East Baltimore. The other classrooms have old metal desks and chairs, torn window shades and cold floor tiles.

"The purpose is to make the climate better for learning," said Harold Sanders, spokesman for Sylvan, a Columbia-based private tutoring company. "Baltimore City can't afford this, but, given the same opportunities and circumstances, it could deliver the same type of teaching."

Last week, Sylvan launched a summer session of math and reading programs in six Baltimore elementary schools that qualify for federal Chapter 1 funds.

Chapter 1 is a federal program that pays for tutors, field trips and other academic help for students who come from low-income families. In Baltimore, approximately 26,000 students qualify for Chapter 1 aid.

In March, the Board of Estimates awarded a one-year, $1.4 million contract to Sylvan to run the programs.

Sylvan officials say the contract marks the first time a private-for-profit contractor has operated Chapter 1 programs in a public school system.

Earlier this year, the city balked at the firm's proposal because of an expected $8.2 million cut in Chapter 1 funds for compensatory education. But school officials said they accepted the proposal after Sylvan agreed to provide 12 months of service for the same fee and per-pupil cost as a nine-month program.

The other five elementary schools participating in the program are: Thomas G. Hayes, William Paca, Elmer Henderson, Madison Square and Robert Coleman.

Sylvan has promised to raise the students' test scores in math and reading by two grade levels. Douglas Becker, president of Sylvan, said the six-week summer program is necessary to meet that goal.

"Having a summer break can make it difficult for the children when they come back to school in the fall," he said.

Twice a week for an hour, the students will use the "Sylvan formula" -- groups of three students working one-on-one with an instructor and computers. The formula also recommends a formal conference with parents and regular classroom teachers after every 12 hours of instruction.

Robert O. Minor, spokesman for Sylvan, said parents of about 60 percent of the 660 students' involved in the program approved of their children attending the summer session. Sylvan is trying to persuade the parents of the remaining students to allow them to attend also.

Charity Welch, director of education at the Sylvan center at Fort Worthington said home visits or phone calls to parents or relatives are used in an attempt to locate students who aren't attending the summer session.

Ms. Welch said she even talks with children in a student's neighborhood to find out where the missing child might be.

"We will do anything to get them in here," she said.

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