Seminar inspires teachers to booster at-risk students

January 23, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Staff Writer

William W. Purkey delivers a message that's as touchy-feely as hug guru Leo Buscaglia and as humorous as a David Letterman monologue.

"Live to enjoy," "Take time for each other" and "I'm a nacho chip and the world's a dip" are just a few of his refrains.

But Dr. Purkey isn't the latest arrival on the book circuit or in the late-night TV wars. He's a university professor who travels around the country talking about a serious topic: children at risk of dropping out of school.

Yesterday, he was at Aberdeen High School, speaking to more than 200 teachers, educators and county officials about ways to encourage educational success among students.

"Without a doubt, he's one of the best educators in the country today," said Jane Fleming, director of Aberdeen High School's Learning and Mentoring Program (LAMP), which invited Dr. Purkey and Dr. Judy Lehr to its midwinter conference.

Dr. Lehr, an assistant professor of education at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., and a former student of Dr. Purkey's, is the duo's "straight man," delivering facts and figures that reinforced their message: "If we invite children to learn, they will."

For every child held back in school, 50 percent will drop out, Dr. Lehr said. For every 1 million boys who dream of playing basketball, only 35 will make it to the National Basketball Association, she said.

Dr. Lehr urged those who attended the conference to "not look at children at risk as children in deficit, but as children of promise."

These messages, and Aberdeen's mentoring program, brought state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick to yesterday's meeting, despite the icy streets and 8:30 a.m. start time.

The school superintendent had visited Aberdeen last November to learn about LAMP. "It's really about students and making students successful as learners," Dr. Grasmick said.

LAMP was started at Aberdeen High School two years ago by the principal, Robert S. Magee, as a way to help students at risk of dropping out. It has expanded to 35 other county schools, including elementary and middle schools.

Mentors, who are school staff volunteers, work one-on-one with children on everything from homework to self-esteem.

"[LAMP] works because they won't accept that kids won't learn," Dr. Purkey said yesterday.

Others who gave up a Saturday morning to attend the conference included county school Superintendent Ray R. Keech and County Executive Eileen Rehrmann, who said that, as a mother of four, she realized, "it was a teacher who made a difference to them."

Another teacher said she was interested in mentoring because she had almost dropped out of school but was encouraged by a caring counselor.

"Teachers are the battlefield soldiers," Dr. Purkey told the audience, who often laughed and cheered at his comments. "They're the most appreciative and the least appreciated."

Dr. Purkey, a professor of counselor education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro when he is not talking to educators, also reminded teachers to take care of themselves. Exercise, take the salt shaker off the table and attack your clothes closet, he admonished.

"We don't have to go to school looking like we're raking leaves," said the nattily-dressed instructor.

A respect for self translates into the classroom, Dr. Purkey told the mentors.

"Every decent thing you do, you do forever," he said. "Any attempt is victory."

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