Baltimore County wants its students to stay put Effort aims to halt moves from school to school

March 14, 1996|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Far from Baltimore County's stately school headquarters in Towson, educators and business leaders are attacking one of the most intractable problems facing the blighted Eastside getting children to stay in the same school for the entire year.

In some sections of Essex and Middle River, poor parents often uproot their kids for incentives such as a free month's rent or Thanksgiving turkey, leaving teachers and administrators scrambling.

But unconventional approaches accomplished more with brainpower than public funds are beginning to make a difference. As part of a novel partnership called Stay Put, business leaders and educators will meet today in Middle River to try to reduce the mobility rate by 10 percent next year.

On the agenda: how business and education can collaborate to improve poor student attendance and a lack of parental involvement.

Officials have created one learning center in an apartment complex, where an instructor and high school students conduct tutorial programs, computer and language courses, and motivation for children to develop self-esteem. Educators also visit parents to encourage them to promote homework study skills in their children.

Mobility rates

The number of children yanked from one school to another is staggering. Often, the same child switches schools two or three times in a year.

At Deep Creek Elementary School in Essex, where student mobility is the highest in the county, more than 60 percent of the 546 students came and went last school year. The mobility rate is 54 percent at nearby Mars Estates Elementary and 49 percent at Middlesex Elementary.

"During what are arguably the most important educational years, the kids are shuttled from school to school, often due to a move of only a few blocks," a report of the county's Office of Conservation said. Only four of the area's 12 elementary schools ranked higher than the national average in math and reading, the report said.

But the Stay Put program is helping to fight that problem.

"We've made more progress in the last six months than ever before," said Mary Emerick, sector coordinator for the Office of Community Conservation. "Without this effort, we lose another generation. This constant moving of children creates lots of stress, anger and frustration. It stays with them forever."

"Psychologically and academically, this is a terrible emotional experience for these kids to be uprooted from one school to another," said Ed Ziegenfuss, executive director of the Essex-Middle River Chamber of Commerce.

"There is no sense of community with this high turnover rate," said Julie Gaynor, who started Stay Put and is a teacher of emotionally disturbed students. "These children leave friends, a familiar environment; they miss or repeat work."

Although Stay Put has no county funding, County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, who is trying to revitalize the Eastside, applauds the program.

"The area's stability will eventually be reflected in the stability of the children. The government can't do it all and this is a fine example of people helping each other, not with concrete or steel but with commitment," he said.

Beginnings

Ms. Gaynor came up with the concept of Stay Put in 1991 while speaking with a family member, another teacher, about the frustrations of student mobility. A Houston program was meeting with success and she contacted officials there.

Two years passed before area apartment managers began to cooperate and offer tenant incentives in the summer, when schools were closed.

Another, Kings Mill, provides a rent-free apartment to house the Creative Kids Community and Resource Center. "We run money-management courses for the parents and are looking at creating recreational activities and Scout troops," Ms. Gaynor said.

"It's creating a sense of community again," said Deep Creek Principal Mary Ann Papafotis. "Both parents and their children lack the basics in many cases. But we are hammering at the fact they don't have to come from money to have success."

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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