Year-round program scores with students Troubled youths, families get extra help, attention from county social workers

July 27, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The Woodmoor Elementary School students who go bowling at the AMF Rolling Road Lanes in Catonsville each week this summer are getting some exercise and staying out of the heat -- but there's more to it than that.

While these 7- to 11-year-olds knock down pins and eat popcorn, social worker Kim Morrill is keeping score -- in more ways than one.

Morrill is one of six school-based social workers who continue working with students during summer recess, part of the county's 2-year-old School Link Family Services program designed to help troubled children and their families.

Year-round, social workers at Woodmoor, Milbrook, Glenmar, Victory Villa, Hawthorne and Martin Boulevard elementaries visit children and their parents at home or, like Morrill, take advantage activities such as the bowling program to build ties.

"All of these kids I have built a good enough relationship with that if something were going wrong at home, they would tell me," said Morrill, who is a family therapist.

The year-round services are part of the county's effort to combine the work of different agencies that deal with children, an idea reinforced by last summer's murder of 9-year-old Rita Denise Fisher.

Fisher's teachers at Winand Elementary School had tried repeatedly to get help for her. But their scrutiny ended with the school year, and she died several weeks later, battered and emaciated.

"The school system has become the surrogate parent in so many ways, so accepting that reality makes sense," said County Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat whose district includes Woodmoor and Winand elementary schools.

Woodmoor Principal Antoinette G. Lyles is a fan of having social workers in the schools and of Morrill.

"She has a good handle on what kids need," Lyles said, adding that Morrill works with the school nurse, counselor and teachers as part of a team, and visits families at home and in other informal settings outside school.

Said Shirley Reid, supervisor of the program for the county's Department of Social Services, "We kind of see the whole family as what we have to work with."

During the school year that ended June 30, the six school-based social workers served 641 children, including some in foster care, Reid said.

Morrill's work at the bowling alley is an example of how they maintain those relationships during the summer.

Paid for with donations solicited by the bowling center's employees, the weekly outings for two groups of 20 children provide them with summer recreation and give their parents and caretakers a break.

The Woodmoor children and several of their parents talked about their problems as they bowled last week.

Tyrone Rawls, 11, said he has learned from working with Morrill through the year to change what he calls his "attitude problem."

Previously, he said, he would fight when provoked and get in trouble. Now, he knows to "just tell the teacher," and is happier for it, he said. He likes to go bowling because "you get to have fun, and most of the time it will keep you out of trouble."

Desmond Hart, 9, began to receive counseling after his father's death in a car accident several years ago, said the boy's mother, Sharon Hart. "He used to just cry at the drop of a hat," she said, and his schoolwork suffered.

After working with Morrill, he is doing much better, Hart said. "She comes to our house to talk with him. It's wonderful. He has learned how to let go. She talked to him about how to cope and deal with death." Recently, when Hart was in and out of the hospital, "Kim stepped right in," she said.

Chris Byron, 9, had attention problems that had not been diagnosed and that got him in constant trouble. Morrill arranged for medical screening and treatment, and he has improved, Morrill said.

"He went from going to the office weekly to going once in six months," Morrill said.

Chris' mother, Dawn Byron, said the help is welcome.

"I think it lets them know there's somebody else there besides their parents who's willing to spend time with them. My kids love her to death," she said about Chris and her daughter, Alisha.

Morrill's work also has built bridges to the local business community, in the form of the AMF bowling center.

Sandy Hicks and Trinita Blackston, the AMF center's managers, and Blackston's son, Norman, who also works there, held a carnival for the children and solicited donations from area TC merchants to pay for the bowling. The county pays for transportation and food.

On a recent day at the lanes, the social worker and her charges could hardly be distinguished from any other group of bowlers.

As the children chattered and the noise level rose, Morrill stepped in quickly.

"One, two, eyes on you!" she said twice, loudly, quickly getting their attention with the classroom tactic. They quickly quieted down.

Pub Date: 7/27/98

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