Professionals and volunteers aiding schools Helpers: The holiday season is a good time to think about, and thank, those people who give freely of themselves to help children learn.

The Education Beat

December 24, 1997|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

AGAIN THIS HOLIDAY season, Education Beat devotes a column to people who give of themselves to help make schools better.

One afternoon last week, Cardinal William H. Keeler and a group of Catholic and Jewish educators visited The Sun in search of editorial support for inclusion of $14 million in Gov. Parris N. Glendening's budget to aid parochial and independent schools across the state.

At the same moment, not five minutes away in East Baltimore, Sister Brenda Motte was laying plans to collect books and money for restoration of the library at Johnston Square Elementary, one of the city's bereft public schools.

So what's a nun doing helping stock a public school library? "It's our village, and we care for people in our village," says Sister Brenda.

It's also her calling. A member of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, she's been about such voluntary activities since arriving on the train from Oklahoma 52 years ago. She was 15 -- but old enough to know that no Catholic order in her native state would accept a black novitiate.

The Oblate Sisters, the world's first permanent order of black nuns, established here in 1829, operate St. Frances Academy, a Catholic high school at 501 E. Chase St. The public elementary school is a few blocks farther east on Chase.

Sister Brenda runs a tutoring program for Johnston Square children. As the convent's coordinator of outreach, treasurer and property manager, she's a busy bee. Friends supply her with little bottles of shampoo and beauty aids from hotel bathrooms, and she gives them away as prizes in the neighborhood bingo games for senior citizens.

Guards at the City Jail, which is in St. Frances' back yard, help her out, too.

"This is a poor community, but this is a wonderful community," says Sister Brenda, who lives with eight other Oblate nuns in six refurbished rowhouses across Brentwood Avenue from St. Frances.

"The kids desperately need a good start," she adds. "They need books to read. If children learned to read and write when they're small, there wouldn't be so many hungry, homeless people."

At Johnston Square Elementary, Principal Colyn Harrington takes time out from a student Christmas show to show a visitor the barren library. Shelf after shelf is empty. (Harrington, however, does have a librarian three days a week. In that respect, she's lucky.)

"Do we need books?" she says. "Are you kidding? We especially need books for younger children, grades kindergarten through two. Picture books would be excellent."

How many does she need?

"Five thousand would be ideal. Five hundred kids, 10 books for each. Then we could have a lending library. Children could take books home."

That's the goal: children taking books home. Sister Brenda says she has rounded up about 300 volumes with the help of her sister Oblates.

"We're working on it," she says. "These kids are worth it."

East side program brings families, children together

Imagine, if you will, a "suburb" of Dundalk -- West Inverness -- that's in decline after the heyday of Beth Steel. It's here, to Sandy Plains Elementary School, that Patricia Waters, 61, journeys the first Friday of every month for her volunteer work.

The first Friday is the day of FACT, Families And Children Together, a program that Waters, an education professor at Towson University, put together six years ago when her term as a department chair expired and she thought she'd have some time to help others.

The program rests on the proposition that parents don't learn automatically how to raise children, that good discipline is a combination of caring and control, and that children need the help of an adult to learn good behavior.

Usually on those Friday mornings, the parents -- fathers, too -- meet with their children, with pre-kindergarten teacher Robin Bukovsky, and with Waters. They might have an activity. They might do "table talk," taking up such topics as "How do holiday times affect your behavior and that of your children?"

At the December FACTS gathering, Yvonne Wilkins was working on Christmas decorations with her 5-year-old daughter, Keosha. "I've learned a lot about how to deal with my children, how to talk to them and show them appreciation, build their self-esteem," said Wilkins, a nursing assistant.

Retired city school official publishes her memoirs

Back in April 1996, we reported here that Rebecca Carroll, the retired deputy superintendent of schools in Baltimore, was hard at work (in longhand) on her memoirs. Now they've been published by Fairfax Press under the title "Snapshots: The Thoughts and Experiences of an African-American Woman."

Carroll, 79, writes of her childhood on Dolphin Street in Baltimore and of her experiences as a teacher and administrator in city schools as they were segregated, desegregated and segregated anew. In her retirement, she's been engaged in numerous volunteer activities, most involving teen pregnancy prevention.

Carroll's daughter, Constance Carroll, president of Mesa Community College in San Diego, will introduce the author at a reception and book signing at 2: 30 p.m. Saturday at the Enoch Pratt Central Library, 400 Cathedral St.

Pub Date: 12/24/97

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