Early vision of college Intervention: The summer College Dream gives economically disadvantaged city youths information and the attitude they'll need to finish high school and get a college degree.

July 17, 1996|By Kaana Smith | Kaana Smith,SUN STAFF

When Michael Douglas was graduating from junior high school, he knew he wanted to attend college and become a lawyer. But what he wanted and what he believed he could achieve were two different things.

"I thought there was no way I could go to college," said Douglas, a Cherry Hill native.

But thanks in part to a special summer program, Douglas now is a senior at Salisbury State University and will graduate this year with a degree in political science.

College Dream is a two-week program that prepares economically disadvantaged city youths for the type of curriculum and attitude they need to excel in high school and, ultimately, college.

This year marks the seventh summer that the program, housed in Gilman School in Roland Park and supported by city and private funds, has opened its doors to graduating eighth-graders who in most cases will be the first college graduates in their families.

One hundred of the 14- and 15-year-olds will participate in one of two cycles of the summer program. Each group of 50 spends two weeks studying mathematics and learning what it takes to be a successful college student.

"We take this time to intervene between middle school and high school and try to share with them the expectations they'll need to maintain if they want to go to college," said Evelyn Greene, program coordinator.

"We just try to arm them with as much information as they need."

The program includes field trips to local colleges and a weeklong stay at a dormitory at the Johns Hopkins University.

"It gives you experience. You get a chance to know what college students actually do," said Andre Wilkerson, 14, of West Baltimore.

One afternoon this week, Andre was joined by a few of his classmates for a lesson on how to use the Internet. The group listened patiently to the librarian, but it became apparent they wanted to explore and learn for themselves. With eager eyes and anxious fingers, they began to browse the Internet.

In another room, the sound of typewriters could be heard. It's a career awareness class, and students are being taught to type their resumes.

As they arm students with information, the program staff members also are particular about the manner in which children receive the information.

"We are a no-nonsense group of people," Greene, 53, said. Her role is both coordinator and mother to the children who pass her in the hallways and see her in class. Sitting at her desk, she's a formidable figure, provoking a sense of security and love but demanding a level of respect.

As she spoke, one of the program participants hesitantly approached her desk. Unable to make eye contact with Greene, he went on to describe his aching stomach and his need to go home.

In a soft-spoken voice she questioned the fidgeting teen-ager. In a matter of minutes the mystery is solved: He didn't like the lunch menu. After she gave him a chance to think over what happened, he decided to stay for the afternoon.

"These children are away from their families. The children look for someone they can bond with, look up to," said Shirley Cook, one of the program teachers and a teacher at Milford Mill Academy.

The staff seeks to give students the kind of attention to help place them on a college-bound track. After seven years, the staff believes they have the right approach.

"When you find something that works, you keep at it," Greene said.

Pub Date: 7/17/96

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