GRETCHEN TARLETON bridges the gap between middle-class Franklin Elementary School in Reisterstown and poor Westport Element- ary-Middle School in South Baltimore. She's PTA president of the former, teacher of a combined first- and second-grade class at the latter.
She'd like you to know that though the schools are different -- the one mostly white with a 6.4 percent poverty rate, the other mostly black with 93 percent of its students eligible for school lunch subsidies -- the kids are pretty much the same.
"I'm a mother there. I'm a mother here, too," she said yesterday as she and her colleagues at Westport prepared for today's opening of classes. "I'm whatever these kids need, and they need a lot."
They need love and respect at both ends of Tarleton's commute, she said, but they need more in South Baltimore: breakfast and a place to play and protection from a world that often turns violent.
A Massachusetts native with an accent to match, Tarleton, 40, returned to teaching a year ago. She has three children: Emily, 12, who has gone on from Franklin to middle school; Jeff, 8, a third-grader, and Olivia, 3.
Tarleton got involved in Franklin school affairs a few years ago and organized a program called Village Heart, which provides school materials, food baskets and other necessities for needy people. From there, it was a short jump to the PTA presidency.
"The idea behind Village Heart was that it takes a village to raise a child," she said. "Hillary [Clinton] is right. It's true in Reisterstown. It's true in Westport."
Principals at both ends praised Tarleton.
"Because she knows what goes on in schools, she's a real asset as PTA president," said Richard West, the Franklin principal. "She knows what you can do and whom to ask. She knows more than most people how to deal with a bureaucracy."
Sharon Van Dyke, the Westport principal, said: "She's a person I wish I could be. She's always up, she never gets down, and she won't let her team members get down. I call her the Madonna of the ground floor."
Would Tarleton send her children to Westport? "I bring them here. Every day we're off school in the county but not in the city, they are up and dressed and ready to go. I want them to decide for themselves what they think of the children here before someone else decides for them."
The 73-year-old Westport school stands high beside the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, looking west over low-lying housing projects. The teachers yesterday were working in teams on strategies for the new year. A summerlong swirl of political squabbling over city schools, the recent news of the battery charges brought by the superintendent's wife against Walter G. Amprey -- all seemed far away, long ago.
Principal Van Dyke likes it that way. "We'll be affected ultimately by most everything that happens," she said, "but we need to insulate ourselves right now. We have a task to do, and we're going to do it. We can't let these things harm our children."
At noon, everyone gathered for a preschool "community" buffet. Arnita J. Shorter, 85, a substitute teacher who commutes to Westport by city bus, was the oldest. The youngest was the infant child of a staff member. Everyone stood in a circle, holding hands while Assistant Principal Gail Adams said the blessing and asked God to watch over Westport in the new year.
"You wouldn't see this at Franklin," Tarleton whispered.
At 90, Lillian Rice defines idea of continuing education
Lillian Rice begins the fall term tomorrow in course No. WAS 106, Swimming for Total Fitness, at Catonsville Community College. The next day she turns 90.
Catonsville's oldest student has been taking swimming and other classes since the late 1970s, aided by a waiver of tuition, (except for a small registration fee) for senior citizens.
"I want people to see what's out there for them and that all they have to do is make the effort," Rice said yesterday.
She's also taken yoga and karate at CCC, but swimming is her favorite. "Swimming always helps anything that's the matter with you ... but I don't know how to cook for beans."
Pub Date: 9/04/96