A holistic approach for course to career High school is first in city archdiocese to require internships

December 08, 1997|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

During the past 38 years, thousands of Baltimore children have walked through the doors of Our Lady of Pompei High School in Highlandtown to learn lessons in algebra, English literature and world history.

But these days, academic success at the school means more than writing compositions and solving analytical math problems. The 138 students who attend Our Lady of Pompei, in the 200 block of S. Conkling St., are required to take business courses and complete at least one internship in a field of their choice.

The school is the first in the Archdiocese of Baltimore to take a holistic approach to career preparation, incorporating it into the curriculum. Its focus has attracted a record number of students to the high school, which is housed in a small two-story brick building with the parish elementary school.

The high school draws children from a mix of backgrounds -- from neighborhoods as far and disparate as Hampden and Randallstown. Enrollment at Our Lady of Pompei has more than doubled since 1991, when 60 students attended the school.

If the student body continues to grow, it might be forced to find a new address -- some classes already have more than 20 students, the maximum allowed by the archdiocese.

"Having the elementary and high schools in the same building could become stifling to both," said Ronald J. Valenti, archdiocesan superintendent of schools.

"We're looking at ways for both schools to enhance their programs," Valenti said. "That means the high school could be relocated."

Under consideration, Valenti said, is a move to the vacant Holy Rosary Elementary School in Fells Point. The school building closed last year as part of a plan to restructure schools troubled by changing demographics and economics in Southeast Baltimore.

The Southeast Baltimore Catholic Academy Board, an independent body that oversees Our Lady of Pompei elementary and high schools, and four other parish schools, will decide whether to move the high school.

Regardless of where Our Lady of Pompei is housed, students say they will continue to attend because it offers internship opportunities they would not find elsewhere.

"Through the [internship] program, I was given the chance to work with a radiologist for three months," said Jennifer Kuiken, 17, a senior who hopes to enter the medical profession.

"I learned the value of hard work and what it takes to succeed." Says Edward Gregg, a former business consultant who helps students find work with local companies: "Our internship program shows the students the relevance of what they are learning.

"Most of these kids come from hard-working, blue-collar families," he said. "Traditional lectures don't work for them. They aren't a theoretical group. They're much better at practical applications."

For the past three years, Our Lady of Pompei has encouraged students to take a realistic approach to career goals and how they plan to achieve them. Internships that develop job skills and courses that involve a career focus are as integral a part of preparing for college as math or science.

The program is nothing like traditional vocational programs. Our Lady of Pompei's career preparation curriculum is designed for the college-bound crowd that wants to explore careers.

"Traditionally, less than 20 percent of our students continued their education beyond high school," said Christopher Russo, the school's principal. "But last year, over 90 percent of the graduating class enrolled in a two-year or four-year college."

Economic changes -- the decline of factory jobs and the rise in service industry positions -- sparked the transformation, Russo said. In 1994, the high school formed a partnership with Baltimore-based USF&G Corp., an insurance company, to revise the school's curriculum.

"College is another world for these kids, some of whom will be the first in their families to graduate from high school," Russo said. "We realized we needed to prepare them better for the challenges they're going to face."

If Our Lady of Pompei continues to flourish, the archdiocese may establish a program with a career focus at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Southwest Baltimore, an idea that is receiving rave reviews from students at Our Lady of Pompei.

"I think the program should be expanded," said Andrew Manning, 19, a senior who works at a local movie theater. "It helped me develop a better understanding of the real world and prepare for job interviews."

Pub Date: 12/08/97

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