Learning-disabled girl progressed, then fell back

A TOO FLEETING TRIUMPH IN TEACHING

November 15, 1994|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,Sun Staff Writer

It was over the telling of time that the three of them came together eight years ago at Carney Elementary School in Baltimore County.

Dena S. Love was the special education teacher. Cindy Jakum was her "assisting teacher," not yet certified, trying to decide if teaching was the career for her. Teresa was a blond kid of about 9 with a small frame, blue eyes and a smile, said Ms. Jakum, "that stretched from ear to ear and was always there. She would get so excited when she did something correctly. She'd literally jump out of her seat."

Teresa had learning disabilities, and she was in the special education class taught by the two women. Among other problems, Teresa couldn't tell time.

"We worked with her 15 or 20 minutes a day for what seemed like months, and we just couldn't make headway," Ms. Jakum recalled. "We tried games until we were sick of them. After awhile, we ran out of ideas. I knew that people learned by repetition, but nothing seemed to work. Teresa just didn't get it."

But one day Ms. Jakum was met at the schoolhouse door by an excited Teresa. "Mrs. Jakum, Mrs. Jakum!" she yelled. "Ask me what time it is!" The two rushed to the classroom, where Ms. Love and Ms. Jakum hauled out the toy clock. "I asked her what time it was," Ms. Jakum recalled, "and she pulled the big hand and the little hand to 12 and announced, 'It's 12 o'clock!'

"It was one of the most wonderful moments of my short teaching career. We all cried and hugged and went through the day on Cloud 9. But the story doesn't have a happy ending. The next day, we announced it was clock time, and Teresa got up to tell us what time it was. But she'd lost it overnight. Whatever had clicked in her mind the day before was gone -- gone as long as I knew her."

Ms. Love is now principal of Reisterstown Elementary School.

"What happened to Teresa isn't at all unusual," Ms. Love said the other day as she showed a visitor around her school. "Each case is an individual case. I've had kids who could read but couldn't write, lots of kids with attention deficits and some with memory problems, which was apparently one of Teresa's disabilities." (In fact, according to the state Education Department, the majority of special education students have trouble with speech and language. Relatively few are mentally retarded.)

In 1994, Ms. Love said, Teresa probably would be in a regular classroom at Carney or at any other neighborhood school in Baltimore County. In short, she'd be one of those students in the "inclusion" plan ordered two years ago by Superintendent Stuart Berger. More than 1,100 Baltimore County learning-disabled students were abruptly transferred from special education programs to regular classes in neighborhood schools at the end of the 1992-1993 school year.

Although Dr. Berger was nominated for tarring and feathering, and not a few of his harshest critics are the parents of special ed students, he has not backed down from the rightness of his decision (though he has conceded that the timing and public relations of the move constituted "the biggest miscalculation of my career"). After all, he points out, the federal law requiring the "least restrictive environment" for handicapped students has been on the books for 21 years.

Actually, Baltimore County was a Johnny-come-lately to inclusion among Maryland school districts. The policy ordered by Dr. Berger only began to move the district closer to Carroll, Frederick and Howard counties, which had been "including" the preponderance of their special education students for years.

At Ms. Love's school, a visitor can't tell disabled students from "normal" ones, and that's as it's meant to be. Not that there aren't special ed teachers. But instead of teaching Teresa and her fellow learning-disabled students for most or all of the day in a single classroom, today's special ed teacher at Reisterstown goes into the regular classrooms and works alongside the regular classroom teacher.

As for Ms. Jakum, she is now the office manager of a downtown restaurant, having left teaching not long after her year with Teresa, who is now about 17. And though Ms. Jakum and Ms. Love remember Teresa vividly, neither has kept track of her. Neither knows if she ever again knew when it was 12 o'clock.

An honor roll

Recent presidential inaugurations at Loyola College, Goucher College, the University of Maryland at Baltimore and, last week, Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, might leave the impression that area colleges and universities are in the hands of neophytes.

Not so. In fact, leadership has been remarkably stable. Six of the presidents in the Baltimore area have been in office for more than 10 years, three of them for more than 20.

Here's the honor roll:

Carolyn Manuszak, president of Villa Julie College, is in her 30th year.

Mebane Turner, president of the University of Baltimore, is in his 26th year.

Calvin Burnett, president of Coppin State College, is in his 25th year.

Hoke Smith, president of Towson State University, is in his 16th year.

Fred Lazarus IV, president of the Maryland Institute, College of Art, is in his 16th year.

Earl Richardson, president of Morgan State University, is in his 11th year.

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