Beacon of hope for orphaned girl Help: The Coppin State College School of Nursing has awarded Shawnette Alston a full scholarship that she can begin using in 2003.

The Education Beat

April 28, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Shawnette Alston became an orphan just before Christmas last year when an out-of-control Jeep Cherokee plowed into her mother on a sidewalk outside the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

Pearl Brown, Shawnette's mother, was 30. Shawnette, the oldest of five children, will turn 12 Friday.

But already she has been awarded a full scholarship to the Coppin State College School of Nursing -- a scholarship Shawnette won't start drawing down until 2003.

Coppin officials knew Pearl Brown wanted to be a nurse and that she had passed that dream on to her daughter, a Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary School fifth-grader. Coppin President Calvin W. Burnett not only agreed to present the scholarship, but also to begin preparing Shawnette for college immediately.

"She'll have to meet our admissions requirements," said Doris Starks, Coppin's dean of nursing, "but we plan to bring her along so that she's ready. It would be an empty promise if we said to her, 'We'll give you this scholarship when you turn 18' and then did nothing before then. Nursing is not an easy curriculum."

Dr. Starks has appointed a nursing faculty member, Ruthie Hall, to assess Shawnette's strengths and weaknesses and prepare a regimen for her.

"We'll probably have her on campus and do a lot of tutoring," the dean said, "but we don't want to overwhelm her. She needs to be guided and shaped. She's a loving, protective young lady who was thrown into a situation where she had to take care of her younger brothers and sisters. She'll probably make a good nurse."

Eutaw-Marshburn Principal Karl Boone said Shawnette is making good progress in recovering from the tragedy. "She's a nice kid, shy in a sense," he said. "She needs help with her academics, though."

And what if Shawnette decides she doesn't want to be a nurse? What if she wants to be a lawyer? A teacher?

"That's fine by us," said Dr. Starks. "We just don't want to lose her. In a sense, Shawnette is part of our community responsibility."

'Be your own hero,' students are urged

Bill Puka came down from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., last week to serve for two days as Park School's "resident scholar." An authority on moral development, Dr. Puka spent his time on the Park campus talking with faculty and students about what it means to lead a "good life."

Dr. Puka's approach is unconventional, which made him a good fit at Park, a Brooklandville independent school. He has studied and interviewed hundreds of people who live (or lived) inspired, ennobling lives -- Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr.

And they aren't what you think, he said. They're good-doers, not do-gooders. They tend to be religious or spiritual, but they're generally unsentimental, feisty, nonconformist and literal-minded; when they ask for half a loaf, they don't mean a third of a loaf.

Some of them, Mother Teresa for one, aren't always pleasant to be around, Dr. Puka said. And some of them sin mightily along life's way.

Most moral education programs, Dr. Puka claims, don't succeed in "making people more virtuous" because they are so single-minded in making students "good."

He urges students to "be your own hero." Anyone can be a moral hero, he says, even if it means practicing "creative hypocrisy." If you pretend you are good, he says, eventually you'll "grow to understand the motivation" behind the pretense.

Dr. Puka's last act at Park Friday was to lead a student forum on rule-making at a school known for its lack of rules. "Your questions are utterly remarkable," he told the students. "Everything I've seen here in two days has been better than I've seen in my work in college."

Education Department closing downtown library

Even the state Education Department is cutting back. Tuesday, it will close its headquarters library in downtown Baltimore, laying off two librarians and saving about $16,000 in annual operating expenses in addition to the staff salaries.

The library contains curriculum and audiovisual materials, educational journals and on-line services such as ERIC, a database of educational research. Ron Peiffer, the department's chief spokesman, said the library had "atrophied" in recent years as fewer teachers used it and more people gained access to on-line services from their home and school computers.

Others grumbled, however, that the move was not an inconsequential sign of the times but a sign of bad times ahead in the state library system.

Pub Date: 4/28/96

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