Gentlemen's Club turns boys' focus away from fighting FIRST CLASS

June 09, 1994|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Sun Staff Writer

Solemnly, they stand. Then, while linking arms shoulder to shoulder, the boys recite a motto.

Some have been in trouble and admit to a propensity toward settling arguments with their fists. Others have a hard time making friends and "fitting in."

Nearly every week, they gather out of solidarity. The conversation often centers on who messed with whom and how they handled it afterward. But, don't mistake them for a gang.

Meet the Gentlemen's Club of Highlandtown.

The club's purpose is to improve academic achievement, promote self-esteem, social skills and goal-setting, the adult leaders say. That's what's printed on the club's literature. But cut through the "educationalese" to its primary purpose: making gentlemen out of these boys.

They meet for one hour after school in a vacant room, and the meeting begins with a recitation of "The Gentlemen's Club Promise," which is an adaptation of "The Serenity Prayer."

Next, the 15 or so boys are divided into two groups. One group discusses how to handle specific situations like what to do when they get in trouble on the playground or approach a student new to the school. They brainstorm on how they'd act in situations that might occur in their lives and how one solution is more appropriate than another.

The second group of students works on projects -- such as

crafting wood ducks or planters. After 30 minutes, the two groups switch places.

This gives the children an intimate setting to share concerns with an adult and lessons on how to release pent-up anger.

"We were really, really mean," club member Clarence Moricle, 12, says about himself and a buddy. "I was always fighting," he explains.

Clarence readily admits to having a quick temper and a short fuse that landed him in trouble. He's not claiming to be the perfect gentleman now, but his behavior is affected by what he's learned in club meetings.

"When I'm not in the Gentlemen's Club, I still feel like fighting sometimes," Clarence says. "But then I think about what they say. And when I want to hit someone, I stop. I don't hit back. I go tell the teacher instead."

The Gentlemen's Club, which originated and meets at Highlandtown Elementary School on Pratt Street, is in its second year.

School counselor Judy Gilchriest came up with the idea for the club. "There was a need for boys in fourth and fifth grades also to have individual and group help," Mrs. Gilchriest says. (The club was designed for fourth- and fifth-grade students only, but second- and third-grade teachers wanted their students to participate, too. The club now admits students in second through fifth grade.)

School principal Maureen Lee explains that the school has a large percentage of students from single parent families or "blended" families. For numerous reasons, some of the children needed more adult interaction in their lives.

So the women approached Kenneth Robertson, an active volunteer who has a daughter attending Highlandtown. Mr. Robertson, who uses a wheelchair and is legally blind, agreed to lead the club.

The Gentlemen's Club is kept small -- about 15 boys who are recommended by teachers or counselors on the belief they need the additional social or emotional support the Gentlemen's Club provides

"We get together and talk about things concerning them," says Mr. Robertson. "Their problems are often name-calling, someone getting upset over something or not fitting in."

'A great thing to see'

This school year, parent volunteer Wally Heron joined the club. Mr. Heron, who's available during the day because he works a midnight shift, chats with the boys while teaching them woodworking.

"Sometimes we do get them to stop and think before acting out," Mr. Heron says. "And that's a great thing to see."

For Clarence, the weekly meetings with the Gentlemen means "learning and talking and getting the fighting out of my system." Cherie Moricle, his mother, has seen a notable improvement in her son since the Gentlemen's Club meetings.

"It has helped a lot -- and definitely improved his behavior," Mrs. Moricle says. "Anything I can do or say to keep that club going -- I will."

James Nolan thrives on the extra attention. The 12-year-old was also into fighting and found it hard to concentrate on school. "They help me focus on my work," James says. "I think I changed a lot. I love it here."

Betty Buettner, his grandmother, says James' behavior has definitely improved.

"He talks about it [the Gentlemen's Club] all of the time," says Mrs. Buettner. "He enjoys the things that they make and he really enjoys the gentlemen who run it," she says.

Teacher Emily Kalejs sees tangible results in her students who joined the club.

"The main thing I see is they become self-confident and they feel successful at something. And that's important," says Mrs. Kalejs, who teaches third grade.

Barbara Sherr, who teaches fourth and fifth grades, recommended a few students to the club.

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