400 grade-school students mark year of achievement A reward at Downs Park for getting the job done

June 16, 1996|By Jal Mehta | Jal Mehta,SUN STAFF

A day after the end of the school year, more than 400 students from two Anne Arundel County elementary schools gathered Thursday at Downs Park to celebrate a year of achievement.

Students at Park and Freetown Elementary schools who worked hard, received good grades or had nearly perfect attendance were invited to a day of karaoke, games and balloon-making as part of a 3-year-old program created by Tom and Nancy Stuehler, owners of the La Fontaine Bleu catering service.

Participation in the program has nearly doubled since its inception. In its first year, only 46 percent of eligible students qualified; this year 86 percent did, Stuehler said.

"We have seen a dramatic improvement after it was instituted," said Freetown guidance counselor George Drummond. "Kids always are talking about it, saying Mr. D, Mr. D, can I go to La Fontaine bleu?"

Kids spent the day running from one activity to the next so as not to miss out on anything.

Particularly popular was the karaoke booth. Aspiring stars crooned their rendition of "Achy-Breaky-Heart" to the delight of only some of those in attendance.

A new version of volleyball was the sport of choice. Kids took turns throwing a ball over the net and out of sight.

The criteria for entering the program are not flexible. Only children who miss no more than one day of school per quarter can qualify for the picnic through attendance.

The program differs from other incentives in that it is not based solely on academic success.

"Let's face facts, some children would never get on the honor roll," said Bonita Landerman, the media specialist at Park. "But this gives them all a chance."

Stuehler approached the Anne Arundel County School Board in 1993, offering to sponsor two schools. The school board and NAACP selected Park and Freetown because their attendance records were among the worst in the county.

"Many children woke up in the morning and their working parents, or often parent, were already gone. So they didn't go to school at all," Stuehler said.

To keep students motivated, La Fontaine Bleu provides dinners in its banquet hall for students who qualify each quarter.

"It gives the kids a goal," said Deborah Teare, the president of the PTA for Freetown. "They don't get that as much at home. It is important to teach them that if you strive hard you will be recognized."

The program also is intended to catch students before they develop bad habits.

"A lot of charities do things to affect kids in high school," said Michael Stuehler, Tom Stuehler's son and vice president of marketing and advertising at La Fontaine Bleu. "But young minds need to be molded, it is a very critical time."

A large part of the success of the program has been the cooperation of the families, said the younger Stuehler. More than 100 parents and grandparents sat in a shaded picnic area while the kids played games in the sun.

"[The picnic] is a great motivational tool," said Gordon Eldridge, the father of three qualifying Freetown students. "Of course, if the program didn't exist they would still be working or I would be on them."

As for the children, they characterized the day not primarily as a celebration of scholastic success, but rather as an opportunity to do some things they couldn't do during the school year.

"I found a crab in the pond," said an excited Craig Brown, 10. "Then I brought it here and scared my sister."

Pub Date: 6/16/96

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