Students testify before state Senate to get funds for 114-year-old school

March 15, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

Four Ellicott City middle school students got a first-hand civics lesson yesterday, waiting for hours in a crowded Annapolis hearing room to seek state funds for the Ellicott City Colored School restoration project.

"We're learning about the government and the Constitution," said Joanna Seck, an eighth-grader at Dunloggin Middle School who, along with three classmates, testified before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

The subject of their testimony: Senate Bill 812, sponsored by Sen. Thomas Yeager, D-13, which would approve $206,000 in matching funds for the former school.

Built in 1880, the one-room school was the first for black children in the county to be built with public funds. Before it was built, black children were taught in private homes, churches or in Odd Fellows Lodges.

The school was closed in 1953 because of its unstable condition and is missing pieces from its stone and cinder block foundation.

The Central Maryland Chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society wants to make the 114-year-old former school into a museum and research center on the history of Howard County blacks.

The society would be responsible for matching the state funds if the bill is approved by the General Assembly and by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

At the hearing, the girls took turns reading from a three-page letter that they had prepared.

"Every time we walked to historic Ellicott City, we wondered what would happen if no one did anything to help restore this schoolhouse," 13-year-old Kara Bruner told the committee. "Would it one day be there and the next day be gone? Or would it collapse into the nearby stream and all the historical sense escape from our community?"

The girls, who are getting school credit for researching the Colored School, said after their testimony that they tried to underscore a museum's importance to Howard County.

"Our point was that it could be a research center, that it could be used by everyone," said Sarah Upchurch, 13.

The girls said they became interested in the building at Frederick Road and Rogers Avenue after seeing a sign announcing that it was under renovation.

"And to make the community look clean," added Christen Black, 14.

Though their testimony took only five minutes to deliver, the girls had to wait more than two hours before their turn came.

While waiting, they did homework and listened as dozens of other petitioners sought money for such projects as the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company and a national museum of Civil War medicine.

Though others accompanied their requests with slick videos and slides, the girls from Dunloggin held up a hand-made poster reading, "Future Faces for the Ellicott City Colored School."

Some of project's supporters worried that they might lose out in the competition for a share of about $15 million in state funds set aside for a variety of capital projects.

"Everybody's asking for money. Where's it all going to come from?" worried Joanna's mother, Mary Seck, who drove the group to Annapolis.

But Senator Yeager was confident that the project will be approved.

"Two hundred thousand dollars is a relatively small amount," he said. "The lesser the amount of money, the greater the probability that it will be approved."

Sylvia Cooke-Groce, past president of the national Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society and founder of the Central zTC Maryland chapter, praised the girls' testimony.

Their support for the project demonstrates a deep local concern about the Colored School that crosses "race, ethnicity and age. It's for other folks too. They care about it," she said.

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