Alma T. Cripps, Bryn Mawr teacher

March 11, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Alma Taliaferro Cripps was devoted to teaching. Fighting a losing battle with cancer, she wanted to spend her last days helping her students at Bryn Mawr School -- even if it meant putting off a trip recommended by her doctor.

Mrs. Cripps, whose accomplishments included starting an innovative reading camp at Bryn Mawr for disadvantaged children, died of the disease Tuesday in her Bolton Hill home. She was 61.

A fifth-grade teacher at Bryn Mawr since 1987, she designed and directed its Readers' Camp -- a program for fourth- and fifth-graders from two Baltimore public elementary schools, Mildred Monroe and James McHenry.

The program, initially funded by an Abell Foundation grant, targets the reading skill problems that disadvantaged students often experience as they move from very direct language concepts to abstract ones.

"The Readers' Camp program grew out of a Bryn Mawr study, and she volunteered to be its first director," first-grade teacher Patricia Nothstein said of her friend and colleague. "She taught the first and second session of this year's camp even though she was sick. She had a wonderful vision for trying to help inner-city children."

The Readers' Camp received additional grant money last year which allowed for its expansion into a program called Readerdays during the academic year.

Despite her failing health, Mrs. Cripps was able to get Readerdays established during the fall. The program features monthly Saturday sessions helping not only the students, but teaching parents to support and encourage good reading habits.

"She was one of the wisest educators I've ever known," said Bryn Mawr lower school Director Marlisa Parker. "She was able to keep a kid in the center of an issue and look at all sides. She was . . . an advocate for the student who had no advocate.

"She was a living example of courage to the students at Bryn Mawr. She put off a trip which her doctor advised to spend what time she had left at Bryn Mawr."

She was born Alma Taliaferro in Richmond, Va., and moved to Baltimore as a child. She was a 1950 graduate of Forest Park High School and earned a bachelor's degree in 1954, a master's in general studies and a certificate in special education, all from Towson State University.

In 1954, she married Dr. Thomas S. Cripps, a Morgan State University professor who is an authority on blacks in films.

She taught at public and private schools and was a co-founder of the Learning Place at Mount Royal, an experimental school within Mount Royal Elementary-Middle School, where she was on the faculty from 1975 to 1987.

She was also a consultant, workshop leader and tutor for schools and churches in several states. She wrote four mathematics workbooks, edited the newsletter of the Maryland Orton Society, an association of teachers of dyslexic children, and reviewed books for The Sun.

She was active in community affairs, serving on boards of such groups as the Mount Royal Improvement Association. She was a member of the vestry at Memorial Episcopal Church, where she taught Sunday school.

She was also a member of the Walters Art Gallery, the Baltimore Museum of Art, Morgan State University Women and the Bolton Hill Garden Club.

She played tennis, enjoyed quilting and was a seamstress.

"She was a Sunday season ticket holder at Camden Yards, where she enjoyed sitting in her seat in the sun and watching the Orioles," Dr. Cripps said.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. March 19 at Memorial Episcopal Church, Bolton Street and Lafayette Avenue.

In addition to her husband, survivors include two sons, Benjamin T. Cripps of North Bergen, N.J., and Paul H. Cripps of Baltimore; a daughter, Alma Richardson Soltysiak of Baltimore; two sisters, Virginia Warner of Dade City, Fla., and Anne Mitchell of Upper Marlboro; and her mother, Alma R. Taliaferro of Baltimore. Memorial donations may be made to the Bryn Mawr Readers' Camp or the Bryn Mawr Scholarship Fund, 109 W. Melrose Ave., 21210; or the Church School of Memorial Episcopal Church.

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