16 city high schools to teach lessons on respect and responsibility $200,000 grant will expand lower-grades program

April 19, 1997|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

Sixteen Baltimore high schools will begin teaching lessons in respect and responsibility this fall, officials announced yesterday.

With a $200,000 grant from the Abell Foundation, the high schools will adopt a trademarked program called "Community of Caring," which trains school employees, students and parents to make fairness, trust and caring part of their daily interaction.

The grant enables the school system to expand to upper grades a character-building campaign in 133 schools serving younger students.

Many children do not receive such instruction at home, so the schools will teach courtesy, public service, leadership, peer mediation, and drug and pregnancy prevention, said James Sarnecki, a retired school administrator who manages character education efforts in Baltimore schools.

Founded 12 years ago by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who remains its director, the Community of Caring program is used by more than 400 schools nationwide, including several in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

Its original mission was to prevent teen pregnancy by teaching ++ students to make informed decisions and take responsibility for their choices, she said.

Over the years, the training has expanded to address drinking, smoking and other risks encountered by teens in the community and at school.

The program commissioned a three-city study of ninth-graders who had received the training; it found grades and attendance improving, and the number of pregnant teens decreasing.

Two-thirds of Baltimore's high schools have signed on for Community of Caring.

Each will tailor the program for its population; the lessons are not intended to become extra classes or requirements, Sarnecki said.

Principal Anne Carusi of all-girls Western High School hopes to foster a schoolwide attitude of caring that spills over into the students' lives beyond class.

Carusi called the program an effort "to elicit some kind of response from the heart, which tempers the head to move the feet."

For high school students who are preparing for work and college, such lessons are especially valuable, said W. Cecil Short, a Riverdale principal and president of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Short stressed that the results of character education will not be as quantifiable as those of math or language lessons.

"If we can turn a heart around in a week or in a day, then we have made a difference," he said.

Since the program was adopted in September at Robert Goddard Middle School in Prince George's County, suspensions have fallen off, said Jacqueline Jones, its coordinator.

"Families must be assured that when their children leave home each day they are going to a place that nurtures the very best in them," Shriver said yesterday during a visit to City College to introduce the program.

Pub Date: 4/19/97

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