Enrichment teachers urged for each of county's schools

October 23, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

The students call her the interest lady. And that's just fine with Pat D'Amario.

Her real job title -- school-wide enrichment model (SEM) teacher -- is too difficult for the children to remember anyway, she said.

SEM teachers serve as resource and catalyst to help students develop talents, from writing a play to researching light bulbs to learning about origami, the Japanese art of folding paper.

Mrs. D'Amario is one of 9.5 such teachers in the county.

She divides her time between Bakerfield and Meadowvale elementary schools, serving almost 1,300 students. It's a juggling act, she admitted.

"I want to address as many interests as possible," the 22-year teacher said.

So does Emily D. Stewart, supervisor of gifted/talented education and school-wide enrichment in county schools. Dr. Stewart took her plea for more teachers before the school board Monday, during a presentation of five-year plans for the system. Several students also spoke.

John Weeks, 10, a fifth-grader at Dublin Elementary School, which doesn't have a SEM teacher, shared his book on inventions with board members. He said he was only able to pursue his interest with the aid of Tom Szrentsits, a "helping" teacher who visited the school several times.

Mr. Szrentsits and another teacher work out of Dr. Stewart's office to spur on children in schools without SEM teachers.

Jeffrey Meisgeier, a Halls Cross Roads Elementary second-grader, confidently told board members what he had accomplished with SEM teacher Joan Cable.

He's written a play about a bowling alley and is working on a book about the future, he said.

The 7-year-old, whose toes didn't touch the floor as he sat in the speaker's chair, also liked being involved in Odyssey of the Mind, a competition designed to help students cooperate and think creatively.

"I was a pencil," he said proudly.

Dr. Stewart's goal is to place a full-time SEM teacher in every school, from kindergarten through grade 12. "How many students are out there that we're not reaching?" she asked the board.

When she came to Harford County 1 1/2 years ago, there was one SEM teacher in an elementary school and one in a middle school. Now, six split their hours among 12 elementary schools and the equivalent of 3.5 teachers work in three middle schools and one high school.

"We can only work on a project one time a week," said Elliott Clark, a Bakerfield fifth grader. "If we had a teacher full time, we could work on it faster."

"It would be wonderful," said Nancy M. Longnecker, principal of Dublin Elementary.

John Weeks agreed. "I think that would be useful, yes," he said.

"We're looking for a child with talent . . . and a high interest in learning," said Mrs. Cable, who works in both Halls Cross Roads Elementary and Roye-Williams Elementary.

Academic achievement is not a prerequisite, the SEM teachers said. Many of the children approach the teachers for help on a project.

"Our job is to discover talents," said Mrs. D'Amario, who often uses a survey to find out the students' most popular interests. "The old gifted and talented test scores eliminated a large population of children."

"It would be wonderful to have someone like Mrs. Cable there full time and not just part time, and in every school," Eric Meisgeier, Jeffrey's father, said at the board meeting. "It would raise the quality of education in Harford County to that next level."

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