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Getting students to go for the gold Teaching: Richard Stebbins won a gold medal in the 1964 Summer Olympics, and he uses it in the classroom today to produce academic winners.

June 18, 1996|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,STAFF WRITER

"I use it to get kids of this generation to turn to achievement," he said. "They're used to getting everything handed to them. Children, black and white, born in this country since the mid-'70s, really don't know anything about the kinds of struggles that every preceding generation has faced -- wars, the Depression, having to share in providing for the household, in caring for grandmom and granddad. Some do, of course. But we're losing the respect for craft, the work ethic, and we see an absence of dreams."

"In the Olympics, you have to put forth a lot of effort to get a gold, silver or bronze medal. Finish fourth, and nobody knows your name. I want children to know what it's like to reach for a standard that means something, that they can set a goal and reach it."

Children who get good grades in his class become class leaders. They sit in the front of the room, and their names are listed on the chalkboard. But one test can alter the list, and everyone knows when one name falls off, replaced by another.

"What happens is the kids begin to take an interest in their own work," he said. "They're focused, and that's important. Once they get up front, that develops competition. It cuts across a lot of the politically correct terms I have trouble with, like we've compromised our standards.

"One of the things the Olympics showed me was that you had to perform. I tell them: 'This is about performance. That's what the world respects.'"

In his five years at Mayfield Woods, Stebbins' performance has earned him the respect of many students and parents in the Columbia, Waterloo and Elkridge neighborhoods that feed the school.

"My son never opened a book to study for a test, certainly never on his own, until he got into that class," says one mother, Amy Modarressi of Columbia's Long Reach village. "But he's had to work there, and he's liked it."

Yesterday, her son, Bejan, was one of those who wore an Olympic gold around his neck during third period. He blushed as Stebbins recounted his accomplishments.

"I gave him more h-e-double hockey sticks than any other student because he thinks he's smarter than I am -- and sometimes he is," Stebbins said to laughter.

Cristan Woodley, another third-period Olympian, buried her face her hands when her name was called, beyond embarrassed. But as the gold medal slid over her head, she turned serious, clearly pleased, clearly moved.

She had earned her moment with the medal. And it was something she wouldn't forget.

Pub Date: 6/18/96

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