Parents get to follow kids' footsteps

The Education Beat

September 20, 1995|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

EVERYONE KNOWS the routine for back-to-school night. Last week it was parents in Howard County. This week it's Anne Arundel.

First, in the auditorium, there's the inspirational talk from the principal. Next comes the president of the PTA, who advises the assembled guests to pay dues, be active and sign up for committees. There's a sign-up table in the lobby.

Then, if it's a middle or high school, it's off to follow the kid's class schedule, 10 minutes in each class, usually interrupted by a buzzer or bell and, just as the parents are getting settled, an announcement that it's time to move on to the next class.

Through it all, everyone knows that those in attendance aren't those the school needs to reach. By and large, they're the ones whose kids do their homework and participate in extracurricular activities -- the choir hearing from the preachers.

Still, Martin T. Burkhouse, 50, regarded back-to-school night at Howard High School the other night with a touch of nostalgia. "This is my last one, after 30 years," he said.

His daughter, Carrie, 17, will graduate next spring, following two sons who are now in college.

The Howard auditorium in Ellicott City was three-quarters full, an excellent turnout, said Mr. Burkhouse.

But anxiety may have been a factor.

Howard, which has a new principal this fall, is full to the rafters with an all-time-high enrollment of 1,655, at least 600 of whom will be transferred next year as the county system goes through the pains of rezoning. There's worry about big classes this year, about who will go and who will stay.

Mary Day, the principal, tried to allay the fears. "I share your anxiousness," she told the parents. "Somehow our motto has to be 'The More the Merrier.' "

Carrie Burkhouse is a top student at Howard and editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. In her journalism class, teacher and newspaper adviser Colette Lawrence praised her students but told their parents that the young journalists would have to raise $7,000 from advertising and other activities -- selling pizzas, for example -- or the paper would not come out twice a month, as scheduled. "I'm not going to get us in debt," she said.

In calculus, teacher John Lockwood greeted 22 parents representing a class of 31. (He said he had 10 students in the same class a year ago.) "This course may be difficult. The A's might not come as easily," warned Mr. Lockwood, who also coaches volleyball.

He passed out the syllabus for the course, which combines two semesters into one, with classes meeting in 90-minute sessions. Among other things Carrie will learn this fall: "The ability to apply derivatives as used in geometric applications, optimization problems and rate of change problems."

In English, a wry Marianne Cross did some lecturing.

"This book is a very expensive book," said Ms. Cross, a former Baltimore City teacher, as she displayed the 1,328-page text for the course: "Elements of Literature: Literature of Britain."

"You'd expect [the students] to be excited and delighted, but I don't see much appreciation for it. Kids in Baltimore City would cry for this. These kids [at Howard] don't know how lucky they are to live in this county."

Twelve parents showed up for the bearded David Ditman, Carrie's European history teacher. A few of the students had had Mr. Ditman for a previous class, and he thanked their parents "for allowing your children to come back to me."

Referring to the redistricting, Mr. Ditman said some teachers would have to transfer, too.

"I don't want to leave," he said. "When we divide, I'm going to have to chain myself to the wall."

Mr. Burkhouse, who said he was "filling in as well" for Carrie's mother, Pat, left the school by 9 o'clock, relieved, he said, because school redistricting in Howard next fall "will be somebody else's problem."

His daughter is a self-assured young woman who already knows where she wants to go to college: Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va.

She wants to pursue a double major in Spanish and historic preservation. "I want to take fallen-down buildings and make them beautiful," she said.

College president teaches U.S.-Japan fiction class

Papers written for the Western Maryland College seminar, "Modernization vs. Tradition: American and Japanese Fiction in the Twentieth Century," are to be turned in to Room 2 in College Hall. That's the office of the president, Robert H. Chambers, who teaches the course.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, the 22 students registered this fall sat in a semicircle in a large room atop Western Maryland's new library. "Too many for a seminar," said Dr. Chambers, who has taught every semester since he arrived 11 years ago, "but I didn't have the heart to throw anyone out."

The seminar, open to honors students, requires reading of well-known American writers -- Twain, Faulkner, Ellison -- with unknown (to Americans) Japanese writers such as Junichiro Tanizaki and Yasunari Kawabata.

Dr. Chambers said the idea for the seminar came when he visited Japan on a sabbatical leave in 1982.

"When my plane touched down, I hadn't read any of the Japanese authors, but I soon saw the parallels between the wrenching conflicts of the 20th-century American South and those of modern Japan."

Education Beat will appear on Wednesdays and Sundays.

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