School wins blue ribbon from state Administrators call volunteers the key to Sandymount success

'Five to eight parents a day'

Relatives of students drill pupils in reading, help teachers prepare

November 11, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

So many parents volunteer at Sandymount Elementary School that they rate their own workroom.

That daily presence is one reason the eastern Carroll County facility won a Maryland Blue Ribbon School award one week ago, said Norma Jean Swam, the assistant principal who led the schoolwide effort to apply for the honor.

"On average, working in the building, we have five to eight parents a day," Swam said. Dozens more help from their homes, cutting and pasting materials teachers will use in class.

"And they're not just the parents," Swam said. "We have grandparents and aunts and uncles."

Experts say parent involvement in schools is critical.

"It allows the children to know their parents really care and are involved in their education," kindergarten teacher Nancy Mays said. "And from a professional standpoint, working with young children who sometimes need extra help, we just cannot do it all alone."

While all schools try to involve parents, Swam and Mays said Sandymount has the most active cadre they've encountered.

"We never have empty halls -- I like that bustling feeling," Mays said. "I've taught in lots of different schools, and that's what think makes our school unique."

Outside the first-grade classroom of veteran teacher Betty Chalson on Friday, parent-volunteer Pamela Malkin sat in an alcove working with students one at a time -- all students, not just those who need extra help. She asked them to read aloud their weekly word lists -- each child has a different one, depending on his or her abilities.

"It's a way of measuring learning," Malkin said. "These words are in the actual stories they're reading."

The words are as easy as "one" and as difficult as "dinosaurs," or words with silent letters, such as "write."

Down the hall, parent Lisa Smith worked with first-grader Adam Murray on his words, using flashcards. He sounded out each one: "happy," "jumped," "hand."

At the word "hear," he stopped. Smith put her hand over the "h."

"What's that word?" she asked.

"Ear," Adam said. "Hear."

"You got them all right! Very good," Smith said.

Adam proudly took his file box of cards and returned to the classroom to tap the shoulder of the next student who would work with Smith.

Smith has two children, Shannon in fourth grade and Vincent in first.

"I come in Mondays for Shannon's class and every Friday for Vincent's class," Smith said.

In the "parent lounge," whose convivial name belies the work under way, mothers Christine Thompson and Judy Henn were cutting squares with patterns on them to be used at Family Math Night tonight.

"She's here all day," Mays said of Thompson, who shares parent-coordinator duties with Holly Schonberger. "We have to tell her to go home."

Said Thompson: "There's work to be done."

At another table, Verna Karolenko was painstakingly counting 1,025 kernels of popcorn to put in a jar for a lesson her son and his fellow third-graders will be taught on estimating quantity. As she worked, her 14-month-old daughter, Melanie, toddled around the room, playing with toys.

"What's also helpful is getting to know the teachers, and your children's peers and who's in the class," said Karolenko, who has four children, two attending Sandymount.

Just after Melanie was born, Karolenko told her sons she wouldn't be able to volunteer that fall.

"They were so disappointed. They were used to having me here," Karolenko said. "So I just brought her along with her blankie. And I've always felt welcome."

Although she can't volunteer for one-on-one tutoring or classroom work with a toddler, Karolenko does prep work for teachers who fill out "work orders" and leave them in the parent lounge.

Being an all-around good school with distinctive qualities is only the first step in getting a blue ribbon -- the second is to apply, which is an intensive process.

"It's like a 40-page thesis," Swam said.

She wrote the application with editing help from fourth-grade teacher (and Sandymount alumna) Lori Hayman. They gathered demographic and academic data on students, and academic and work backgrounds on staff members -- many of whom have taught for decades.

For example, Hayman was taught by Betty Chalson. Hayman said it took her three years of teaching to become comfortable calling Chalson and Becky Gerrard, another veteran teacher, by their first names.

Hayman remembers that her parents volunteered when she attended Sandymount. Barbara and Robert Hayman, who still live on Bethel Road, helped at the school even after their children went to middle school.

She credits the many parents, such as Judy and Tim Henn, who volunteer at the school in addition to holding full-time jobs.

"Twenty years ago, it was easy because mom didn't work," Hayman said. "The volunteer program here, it bends over backwards to accommodate parents' schedules and to make them useful here."

Sandymount was one of 11 elementary schools in the state chosen for the award, and is eligible for the national Blue Ribbon Schools competition by the U.S. Department of Education. Elementaries are recognized every three years. In alternating years, the award goes to middle schools and high schools.

In Carroll, Eldersburg Elementary is the only past Blue Ribbon School.

Pub Date: 11/11/96

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