Helping kids vs. cartoons and other short subjects


March 23, 1997|By NORRIS WEST

ONE SATURDAY a few years ago, an instructor asked a group of elementary school children who traded their TV cartoons for a class an interesting question.

"What are the two most valuable possessions?" the man asked the small group of fresh faces participating in this weekly program.

This bright group thought beyond mere material matters.

"Your mind," one child responded.

"Your body," replied another.


And mind and body are the areas of concentration for the program they were attending, run by Helping Hands Enrichment and Leadership Foundation. Classes cover mathematics, language arts and writing skills for the mind and martial arts and other physical activities for the body.

The program grew out of the Black Student Achievement Program (BSAP) to supplement the schoolwork African-American children were doing on weekdays. Six years ago, Helping Hands won honors as Howard County's top volunteer initiative. It has expanded over the years, gaining broad interest outside the black community and running a summer program. The extra dose of academics serves 200 to 225 children.

But the story does not end there. Although the county public schools have supported Helping Hands over the years, those with a narrow or obstructed view believe the system has no business giving money to this program.

This view was articulated in the public schools' evaluation of the BSAP. Among its recommendations was to cut the $10,000 contribution to Helping Hands because the program was not under the system's auspices.

While it is true that the organization is an independent nonprofit, it seems ridiculous that a program whose goals are consistent with the public schools' mission must beg a meager crumb in the $254.7 million budget request.

Raymond Jenkins, president of Helping Hands, points out that the program has a partnership with public schools, one that enriches the academic life of students and one that the system should embrace.

School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey notes that the program never has been evaluated. But who needs an empirical study to determine that sessions of math and karate are better for a child's mind and body than Bugs Bunny on Saturday mornings?

Oakland Mills' good fight

Hats off to the folks in Oakland Mills. They won't let their community slide any farther downhill without a fight. Their Giant store is closing, crime is a growing concern, and the quality of area schools is a constant topic. These issues have galvanized some residents into action.

The recently formed Village Center Steering Committee aims to persuade the Rouse Co. to revitalize the dying neighborhood shopping center. Rouse insists that it has shown its commitment jTC to older Columbia villages with the start of renovation work at the Harper's Choice Village Center and plans to revitalize the Long Reach Village Center. But a gentle nudge can't hurt.

Residents are eyeing the Smith Farm, the 300-acre property whose fate is in the hands of two family heirs. Oakland Mills villagers must be wondering whether some development might inject some life into their community.

Women of note

Short biographies of the first five inductees into the county's new Hall of Fame reveal them to be remarkable women: Dr. Mary Rockwell Hovet, Leola May Moore Dorsey, Jean F. Moon, Doris Stromberg Thompson and Celonia Banks Walden.

But here are a couple of observations about the selections. First, nothing posthumous -- all members of the initial class are very much alive. Second, the first female county executive didn't make the cut.

Saving painful history

When they were "colored," Ellicott City's African-American children attended a one-room schoolhouse on a hill above Frederick Road. The 117-year-old structure is a reminder of the county's Jim Crow heritage, a painful part of the county's glorious past. It is for this reason that this monument must be preserved.

The Ellicott City Colored School was the first facility in Howard built for former slaves and their children with public money. It operated from 1880 to 1953. Beulah Buckner, of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, discovered the site while exploring the county's black history. In 1989, she began an effort to restore the building.

Ms. Buckner's organization has gained $440,000 in funding thus far from the county and state, which have stepped up to the plate. But restoration will be more expensive than first expected; stabilization is needed to prevent further erosion at the floodplain site. A golf and tennis fund-raiser June 10 at the Hobbits Glen Golf Club also hopes to raise additional money.

When finished, the building and a new two-story building will house the African American Historical and Genealogical Center, adding to the county's expanding cultural life.

Norris West is The Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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