Patterson students walk out

June 07, 1994|By Melody Simmons and Gary Gately | Melody Simmons and Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writers

Nearly 400 students marched out of Patterson High School this morning to protest a plan to bring a private school's highly disciplined curriculum based on character-building to the school next year.

Some carried banners that read "Patterson Pride, No Hyde!" referring to a proposal that a private New England school be given management responsibility for the East Baltimore school -- which faces possible state takeover based on years of worsening academic performance, dropout rates and attendance.

Many of the protesting students were angry about plans by City Schools Superintendent Walter G. Amprey to allow the private Hyde School of Maine to run Patterson High for five years starting next fall.

After learning of the student protest, Dr. Amprey left a meeting with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke this morning to meet with representative of students.

The students walked out at 9:35 a.m. chanting, "No Hyde for Patterson. Save Our Hide!" as administrators and school police officers stood by and warned the students not to leave the building.

Nevertheless, almost 400 students walked out and crossed Kane Street, where they stood and rallied against the plan to bring Hyde's curriculum to their school. They stayed out of classes for about 1 1/2 hours before returning about 11 a.m.

"We don't want Hyde because we don't think it's a good program," said Cathy Branagan, a 14-year-old freshman, who attended a meeting yesterday at the school, where Hyde students performed songs and dances and touted the school's approach to education. Hyde stresses character-building and parental involvement at its schools in Maine and New Haven, Conn.

"We don't want to dance and sing in front of anybody," Cathy said. "We're here for an education."

Today's walkout followed a contentious meeting yesterday at Patterson, after students from the boarding school and from a public school Hyde runs in New Haven, Conn., performed a show about Hyde.

During a question-and-answer session following the performance of dances, music, song and accounts of Hyde, the audience immediately erupted. Patterson parents and students booed, shouted and cursed as Hyde founder Joseph W. Gauld and Hyde students spoke.

Sitting at the edge of the stage in the school's sweltering auditorium, the Hyde students were bombarded with shouts of "brainwashing," "liars," "mind control," and "bull----," and called, among other things, "puppets."

"I do not understand what dancing has to do with education and the children's minds -- nothing," said Susan Lund, the parent of a 10th-grader.

This morning, Maria Forakis, a junior and member of Patterson's student government association, said that "we are united right now as Patterson High School, and we are going to City Hall."

Many of the students this morning said they were upset because a Hyde representative told them they would not receive diplomas upon graduation, but instead would receive certificates from the Hyde School.

"I didn't go to school my entire life just to get a certificate," said Kelley Huemmer, an 18-year-old junior. "This is supposed to be fun, but their kind of school would not be fun."

The diploma issue also concerned Christine Sprinkle, the parent of sophomore Lisa Sprinke.

"Can you take that certificate to get a job? Or to go on to college?" said Ms. Sprinkle. "They don't even have a plan here. They did not present a plan to us last night."

Patterson Principal Leon Tillett Jr. used a bullhorn to address the students, who cheered as truckers drove by, honking their horns in support of them.

"I'm aware of the frustration that you felt in getting answers from the Hyde Foundation," Mr. Tillett said. "There were a lot of legitimate concerns last night, and it is important to you and me and our teachers that we direct our concerns to the appropriate people."

Mr. Tillett urged the students to return to their classes and to plan an organized petition of their concerns.

"What I'm hearing you say is that Hyde's not listening," he said. "We are not a school in New England. We are a school in East Baltimore. You need to take it to City Hall after school. When you've got 200 people standing around, they have to listen to you."

Stacy Woodward, junior who attended yesterday's meeting with Dr. Amprey, said the superintendent challenged students to draft their own plan for Patterson. She said members of the junior class would meet and figure out what to do.

"Some of us were satisfied; some of us weren't," Stacy said of the meeting with Dr. Amprey. "There are a lot more questions that need to be answered."

Hyde's unusual program stresses "character-building" through daily performing arts, athletics, community service, heavy doses of values for children and parents and a college-preparatory program.

Along with more traditional grades, students would be evaluated based on "growth" -- an assessment of their attitude and effort. Students would also be classified throughout the school year in four categories ranging from "off-track" -- those identified by teachers and fellow students for, say, inattentiveness, poor attendance or lack of effort -- to "excellence."

The principal, teachers and their aides -- all to be chosen by Hyde -- would have to undergo intensive training, beginning with two weeks at Hyde in Bath. Once the program is implemented, Hyde trainers would continue to work with the staff for five years.

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