School mentoring program praised But some activities of BSAP are called discriminatory

February 13, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The Black Student Achievement Program's efforts that directly help Howard County student performance -- including mentors who work with students on classwork -- are successful and should be maintained or expanded, according to an evaluation of the program released this week.

But activities that are limited to black students -- specifically an annual awards night that recognizes seniors -- should be discontinued or sponsored by private groups because they're discriminatory, the report said.

The evaluation also found that more than half the teachers in schools that have the program don't know whether many of its initiatives are effective, suggesting that more needs to be done by the program to communicate with educators.

The 10-year-old program -- initially aimed at helping low-achieving black students -- long has been a source of tension in the Howard schools, with supporters saying it ought to be expanded more quickly and critics charging that it is exclusionary.

Its budget and activities have been closely scrutinized by the school board in the last couple of years.

The evaluation, performed by Phyllis Utterback, the school system's assessment supervisor, was presented to the board Tuesday night. The program often varies from school to school.

Components offered at some or all schools include academic mentors who work with students, a newsletter, student retreats, a Saturday math center, summer learning programs and after-school and Saturday centers in Columbia.

In the last 10 years, the program has been expanded to 26 of Howard's 60 schools, and about 75 percent of Howard's 6,000 black students attend a school with a BSAP program. It costs about $280,000 a year.

But the academic achievement levels of Howard's black

students continue to lag behind those of other county students. For example, while 95 percent of white students had passed the basic Maryland Functional Tests by the end of ninth grade last year, only 72 percent of black students had done so.

"The gap has not closed," said board member Stephen Bounds. "This is not the responsibility of the BSAP alone by any stretch of the imagination. It is the responsibility of the school system as a whole and this board."

Bounds described the gap as "not tolerable" and said the school system needs to find a way to end it.

Much of report backed

The program's facilitators supported much of the evaluation yesterday, saying it points to a need to expand the in-school portion of the program.

But they and other supporters also said parents whose children are in the program should have been surveyed -- something not possible because the board wanted the evaluation in time to make changes in the budget for the fall.

Among the most notable results was that elementary, middle and high school students who worked with academic mentors last year reported improvements in behavior, attendance and academic performance.

Each of the mentors -- who are in place at 17 schools this year -- generally works with 15 low-achieving students at a time, helping them with homework, attendance and relations with teachers and administrators.

Almost all mentors are paid for 12 hours a week but many work more hours than that, and some help more than 15 students at a time.

"These individuals are very caring and dedicated, serving many more hours than the 12 they're compensated for," Utterback said. The mentors "serve as a critical bridge between the students and the academic services they need."

More money proposed

Utterback recommended that more money be set aside to expand the number of academic mentors but did not suggest an amount.

Two years ago, Superintendent Michael E. Hickey sought to expand the mentor budget by $50,000 -- more than 50 percent -- but the board declined.

The evaluation also praised a Saturday morning math program at Hammond High School and learning centers begun this fall in the Rosyln Rise and Rideout Heath townhouse complexes in conjunction with the Columbia Housing Corp.

"These initiatives support achievement by linking home, school and community," the report said.

But the report recommended that the BSAP stop giving $10,000 a year to the county's Helping Hands program, which offers enrichment classes on Saturdays and in the summer. The program was begun by the BSAP but is now run by a nonprofit group.

The evaluation also said the BSAP should stop sponsoring activities that are limited to black students, saying it violates the school system's human relations policy.

The report cited two activities that should be ended -- an annual Evening of Excellence to recognize black seniors and leadership retreats.

But Gloria Washington, the program's facilitator, said the Evening of Excellence is the only BSAP activity that is limited to black students and that the other BSAP programs -- including retreats and instructional support -- are open to all students.

Outside group possible

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