'They care about kids' A choice: The Stadium School, run by teachers and parents, is just the kind of alternative environment envisioned by Baltimore's mayor.

March 15, 1996|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,SUN STAFF

Two unremarkable and very institutional hallways on the third floor of an old Baltimore junior high school building are sheltering an elusive presence: hope.

Here, amid the chalk dust and chewed-up pencils that trail schoolchildren everywhere, teachers and parents are experimenting with a new kind of school, one they run themselves even though it is part of the city school system. It's called the Stadium School.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke finds some of his best hopes for the city's distressed school system here. Last week, when he proposed offering parents a choice of schools, he mentioned the Stadium School as a model for other neighborhoods to follow.

Jay Gillen, a city teacher who helped start the Stadium School, finds hope every day that these small, ordinary hallways provide the kind of place where children can learn and grow. "You don't go home thinking, 'This is too big for me,' " Dr. Gillen says. "You have time for one-to-one contact."

Al Epps, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, exudes hope every time he turns his smile on his teacher, Gwen Williams.

Today, he's hoping Ms. Williams will put her seal of approval on his social studies project, in which he argues teen-agers are more concerned with fashion than guns or violence.

"You have to prove it," Ms. Williams tells Al, who tries to argue he doesn't need to know documentation yet.

"I'll back it up in high school," Al offers. "I'll back it up in college."

"No," Ms. Williams assures him. "You have to back it up this week."

The Stadium School, which has 80 students and seven teachers, opened in fall 1994 after several years of battling school headquarters. The organizers parents, teachers and community leaders from neighborhoods around Memorial Stadium wanted a personal, community-oriented alternative to the big middle schools their children otherwise would attend.

Though planners wanted space in Memorial Stadium or elsewhere in the neighborhood, the city school system put them in the former Northern Parkway Junior High School, in the 2500 block of E. Northern Parkway. The students, in grades four through eight, meet at the stadium and are driven by bus four miles to the school. Classes have a maximum of 22 students, and each teacher is responsible for advising and monitoring 12 students.

Ms. Williams, a former community organizer, is in her first year of teaching. Today, one student is at the classroom computer, typing her project. One is at the teacher's desk, discussing her project. The others are at their desks, working quietly.

Bridgette Owens, 13, and Maria White, 12, took on a social action project: making the girls' bathroom cleaner. They were tired of the graffiti, the crumpled paper towels thrown on the floor, the unflushed toilets. They took to heart their teachers' prodding to treat their school like their homes.

They met with all the girls in the school, wrote letters, admonished janitors and patrolled. "They're in fair condition now," Maria said, "but we still haven't done anything about the roaches."

The Stadium School teaches with hands-on projects. The students are evaluated by their projects, which are accumulated in a portfolio. Instead of receiving report cards, they defend their work before teachers and parents in an oral presentation. Their teachers don't give them A's and B's. For each piece of work, the teacher judges them with an A for Achieved, NC for Near Completion, PTG for Progress Toward Goal or LP for Little Progress.

The teachers keep the children working toward an Achieved, in an attempt to avoid passing students if they haven't mastered the work. Al, for example, can keep working on his paper until he satisfies Ms. Williams that he has met the "outcome" set for the project.

"The real evidence he has achieved that outcome," Ms. Williams says, "is when I see him take that paper from one point to another. There's more incentive to dig into it. I want them to get into the meat of these projects."

The school organizers gave themselves five years to succeed or disband. They say they're on track students have shown continued improvement on Maryland Functional Tests in math and reading, and there's an atmosphere of learning.

Across the hall, Judlyne L. Gibson, a playwright, is visiting the school for five days to teach children how to write a play, courtesy of Center Stage. She's working with seven students at the front of the class while the teacher, Jerry Levin, quietly gives other students individual help on their literary logs.

"Look at me," Mr. Levin tells Marlon Campbell, one of his eighth-graders. "Have you ever read about a similar situation or seen one in a movie or on television?"

Marlon gazes at Mr. Levin. "I saw something like that in 'Drop Dead Fred.' " Mr. Levin beams. He pulls out a few more responses from Marlon, and soon has him writing.

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