City schools kick off Wellness Week at Poly

May 01, 1994|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Sun Staff Writer

Offering himself gamely as an example of what happens when eating and exercising fall out of balance, Baltimore School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey led teachers and students on a three-mile walk yesterday to inaugurate "Wellness Week" in city schools.

The event held at Polytechnic Institute, coincided with a citywide neighborhood "expo" at adjoining Western High and attracted a group of mildly critical teachers -- whose points were quickly conceded by Dr. Amprey and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who also came to walk.

Mayor Schmoke and his wife, Patricia, honorary chairman of the wellness effort, made welcoming remarks before Dr. Amprey summoned a small audience to join him on Poly's track.

"One day you might get to look like me," warned the 49-year-old school chief, who is 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighs between 280 and 300 pounds. "It's not easy to develop this kind of physique."

Students, teachers and parents must realize, he said, that school performance and performance in life depend on good health habits.

The dignitaries spoke to empty stands at R. W. Lumsden Stadium behind the high school on Falls Road at Cold Spring Lane. Inside the school's gymnasium, an array of health organizations offered screening and information on wellness at 20 or more booths.

The group of exercisers was augmented by 20 or so marching, placard-waving teachers who offered a short course in reality therapy.

"One Week of Wellness Won't Cure the Baltimore City School System," one of their signs proclaimed.

Teachers for a New Direction, a group of city teachers who want new union leadership, distributed a pamphlet that called the wellness fair "a superficial public relations cover-up for the real ills that affect Baltimore City Public Schools.

"As a caucus of the Baltimore Teachers Union, we want to demonstrate our refusal to participate in or endorse this type of ,, activity while teachers are being threatened with no pay raises, more restrictions in their contract, state takeovers [of certain schools] and increased privatization."

But the marchers themselves said they had no problem with wellness or promoting it.

"We're in total support of this event. But a lot of other things are needed to improve the Baltimore City Schools," said Deborah Sharpe, 29, a special education teacher at Harford Heights Elementary School who is running for president of the union.

Better pay for teachers, smaller class sizes and adequate

supplies are among the needs, she said. Lacking these essentials, teachers are blamed for the system's failures and the failures continue, she said.

Ms. Sharpe and her running mate, Marcia Brown, a 30-year veteran of the city schools, said the union has become complacent.

"They're satisfied with the status quo," Ms. Brown said. Somehow, she said, teachers need "more than an apple a week" to make the system produce.

Dr. Amprey and Mr. Schmoke welcomed the demonstrators.

"The bottom line is, we're in this together," the mayor said.

Added Dr. Amprey: "Certainly, our teachers have endured quite a bit without appropriate salary. But we have to work through this. It didn't happen overnight and won't be corrected overnight."

But he had great sympathy for the demonstrators' points about class size and supplies: "How can you argue with some of the things they are talking about?"

As for wellness, he said, young people need good role models and, he said, he's trying to be one.

"I walk every day," he said with a big smile, "but I eat every day, too."

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