Judge aims to put pupils on path to achievement Popular song lyrics don't amuse black jurist

June 02, 1996|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

From behind the podium, Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Clayton Greene Jr. surveyed his young audience and shouted a question into the microphone.

"It's five o'clock in the morning, where you going to be?"

Without missing a beat the kindergartners through sixth-graders at Van Bokkelen Elementary School shouted back the answer: "Outside on the corner!"

The exchange mimicked the lyrics of a popular song, but it was not the reply the judge wanted to hear.

"If you hang out on the corner, you are headed for criminal court as opposed to being headed for college," Greene said.

He followed up the warning with a speech peppered with more popular song lyrics and sometimes stern admonishments for the students to follow the rules, have positive attitudes and do well academically.

Greene, a graduate of Northeast High School who last fall became the first black named to the Circuit Court in Anne Arundel County, spoke to Van Bokkelen's 635 students Friday morning.

Second-grade teacher Louise Taybron, who has known Greene since childhood, invited him to the school because he could serve as a contemporary role model for students, as opposed to figures in history books. "The children need to relate to someone in the 21st century, someone they can see," she said.

Greene was speaking to students who, for the most part, live in a pocket of poverty where drug abuse and crime are prevalent. They attend one of the first suburban schools threatened with state takeover because of standardized test scores in the single digits.

The state Board of Education last week approved the school's reform plan for the coming year.

Reciting lyrics from a Salt-N-Pepa song that states, "You so crazy, I want to have your baby," Greene elicited laughter.

But he was not amused.

"Having babies at an early age, when you are not ready for them, will kill your dreams, kill your aspirations," he said. "It's going to slow you down."

For the judge, children are never too young to be steered away from a life of trouble and toward one of high achievement.

"My mind was made up that I was going to be something and do something with my life," he said. "At 8 years old, I had that understanding."

He told of the importance of hard work and pointed to his job while in high school as a janitor at Freetown Elementary School and subsequent jobs that got him through college and law school at the University of Maryland.

Khiyon Poole, 11, who wants to be a lawyer, said the speech was inspiring. The fifth-grader said he learned "to be good and look to your teacher, so you can get your education and be what you want to be."

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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