Troubled students welcome at school Money woes threaten Towson program

November 23, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Loch Raven Academy Principal Jack Wilson wants troubled kids at his school.

Without any county funding, he has started a program to keep students who have been suspended or expelled at the Towson magnet middle school, instead of sending them to an alternative school on the other side of the county.

But the new class -- which started at the 970-student school two weeks ago, with a teacher, teacher's aide and six students -- already is in jeopardy.

No county school money is available to support it. And a $5,000 donation by Alan and Lois Elkin, owners of the Advance Information Systems office technology company, who helped launch the program, will run out in January.

To keep his dream alive at a middle school that specializes in the environment, visual and performing arts and life skills, Wilson is seeking help from other businesses.

"These are kids in your neighborhood," Wilson told members of the Joppa-Loch Raven Business Association at a recent meeting, where he outlined the program's need for funds. "We can turn our backs or we can jump in and do something about it."

Several Baltimore County schools have intervention programs that offer an option instead of sending students to one of the county's three alternative middle schools, said Dale Rauenzahn, director of adult and alternative education. But they are not as formalized as Loch Raven's, he added.

Each of the alternative middle schools, located in Dundalk, Rosedale and Catonsville, has a capacity of 75 students, but as students are suspended or returned to their home schools, enrollment fluctuates. Between 40 and 50 students are at each school, Rauenzahn said.

For Wilson, keeping students at Loch Raven avoids having to send them to the alternative school in Rosedale.

"We try to avoid suspension so they don't get to the point where they have lost time and lost faith in us," said Wilson, who this fall developed a less radical option for students with behavior and academic problems.

But don't call Loch Raven's program an alternative program, said Wilson, who prefers a more positive term.

"These are Elkin kids," he said. "We feel strongly we can have the kind of success that makes a difference. Instead of kids feeling like failures, we can make a difference in their lives."

The Elkins, who have known Wilson since he taught their two children almost 20 years ago, say they were glad to contribute to a program that Wilson calls the Elkin Learning Center.

"How can you say no to someone who's willing to give his lifeblood to those kids?" said Lois Elkin. "Jack Wilson is an inspiration."

Located in a comfortable room in a corner of the school's cafeteria, the Elkin Learning Center has tables, chairs, a blue sofa, aqua carpet and a television. There's even a wood dining-room hutch that holds school supplies.

"We wanted it to be like a classroom and a living room," said Wilson.

The five boys and a girl ranging in age from 12 to 14 are excited about the semester's prospects, said Rob Vendramin, 22, a first-year teacher who last week prodded his charges to finish a written civics lesson and set goals.

In addition to academics, students will include operating a candy shop after school and acting as teachers' helpers at nearby elementary schools.

"It will give them a sense of self-worth," predicted Vendramin.

He has the help of 19-year-old Chris Graf, who graduated from Towson High School in the spring. The athlete, who played football and baseball, works with the youths in physical education.

"I wanted people who can form a relationship with these kids," Wilson said.

And it's evident the young people already have formed an appreciation of Wilson.

"He's cool," said Michael Parker, 14. "He does a whole lot of stuff for me."

Added Chris Collins, 14, "He's a positive principal. He tries to help kids. He should win an award for this program."

Pub Date: 11/23/96

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