Saturday School a tough alternative for students Giving up free time avoids suspension

March 22, 1998|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

While most of his classmates were likely still sleeping, 14-year-old Keith Brashears was at Annapolis Middle School yesterday morning, looking as if he'd rather be anywhere but in the home economics room learning how to resolve conflicts.

He and nine other students arrived at 9 a.m. for two hours of Saturday School, a punitive lesson that wrecks his Saturday but kept him from a suspension for play-fighting with another student using a plastic spoon on Friday.

Operating at this and two other Anne Arundel County schools and dozens of middle and high schools in Carroll and Howard counties, Saturday Schools are taught by a rotating cadre of teachers and other school staff and funded by school board money or grants.

The penance lasts between two and 4 1/2 hours on one Saturday and includes videos and lectures about setting goals and learning to control anger.

"We expect them to use this as a learning experience, because it's a lesson, not a suspension," said June Czlonka, assistant principal at Annapolis Middle.

But many of the students who showed up yesterday apparently weren't learning as they were supposed to.

Some hadn't changed their behavior and were repeat Saturday schoolers; others said the information from videos and discussions didn't help much.

At Annapolis Middle School yesterday, Czlonka dispatched the students -- all but two of them boys -- to three different classrooms a few minutes after 9 a.m.

A group of three joined Donna M. Gogolinski, an aide for disabled students, who tried to spark a discussion on how to let another person know you're angry without getting that person angry in the process.

Her suggestion was to say, for example, "I feel dumb when you tease me about my grades. I wish you wouldn't do that."

Asked if they would ever say that, Roger Holland, 14, Orlando Jones, 13, and Gretchee Coates, 13, all said no.

Gogolinski thinks the students get more out of it than they admitted. She said she told Czlonka of the students' aversion to using statements starting with "I feel," and that Czlonka replied that she has heard Saturday School graduates using such statements in the hallways this school year.

Down the hall from Gogolinski, seventh-grade science teacher Jennifer Wooten had written on the board, "I am master of my fate, I am captain of my soul." Teaching a goal-setting lesson, she asked if anyone could talk to any teachers in the school about personal feelings or plans.

Erika Brown, 13, said "No." Then, with 1 hour and 5 minutes remaining in the session, she asked, "How many minutes we got left?"

That is part of the point -- to make the Saturday Schoolers' experience less than pleasant.

"It doesn't make sense to penalize a kid for truancy or class-cutting by suspending them," said Craig Cummings, assistant administrator for alternative education in Howard County, where most of the 26 middle and high schools have four-hour-long Saturday schools.

"The kid doesn't come, so you penalize him by not allowing him to come?" he asked.

Howard County schools recently resumed Saturday Schools, setting aside $58,000 in the county school budget to pay teachers $16 an hour on 35 Saturdays. Between 2,000 and 3,000 students have attended since the school year began, Cummings estimated.

Carroll County's Saturday School is more established. The county has offered 4 1/2 -hour-long Saturday Schools to middle and high school students for more than five years at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center in Westminster.

"We don't mandate that they go to Saturday School, but in most cases the parents would rather have them come on a Saturday" than stay home alone on suspension during the week and miss school, said Gregory C. Eckles, director of secondary education.

Pub Date: 3/22/98

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