A mentoring partnership Goal: The emphasis is on improving reading skills in the fifth year of the city Department of Social Services' program of sending employees to Mildred Monroe Elementary School to serve as mentors to the pupils.

October 11, 1998|By Stephen Henderson | Stephen Henderson,SUN STAFF

Chance may have placed the Baltimore office of the Department of Social Services across the street from poverty-stricken Mildred Monroe Elementary.

But the partnership between the agency and the Guilford Avenue school -- which makes mentors of department employees -- is anything but serendipitous. It's a strong example of how a public agency and a school can team up to make a difference in the lives of city children.

The partnership began its fifth year Friday morning with a new goal, boosting the reading skills among Mildred Monroe FTC students, that will be a hallmark of this year's program.

Yvonne Gilchrist, director of the department, and the other mentors read stories, including "I Like Me" and "Pizza Soup," to the children, then passed out enough books for all of the school's 228 students to take home and keep.

"We've had this partnership for five years," said Social Services spokeswoman Sue Fitzsimmons. "But this year the governor asked the head of every public agency to do something for his Read Across Maryland program. So we decided to add this to our mentoring program."

Fitzsimmons said contributions from agency employees helped pay for the books given to students. They were purchased through the catalog of Reading is Fundamental, a leading nonprofit children's literacy organization. Social Services also has been providing books to clients with young children, thanks to a partnership with Baltimore Reads, she said.

Principal Verlynne Hutson-Herring said she is pleased the reading component was added to this year's mentoring program. When she met with the mentors Thursday, she asked them to continue to emphasize reading with the students throughout the year.

'Raising self-esteem'

"Usually, mentoring is about raising self-esteem, but this year, I want it to be primarily about reading," Hutson-Herring said. "And I'll be interested to see whether putting the emphasis on their reading skills will help increase their self-esteem, too."

Hutson-Herring, who became principal in July, said she hopes the program will help raise her school's scores on state reading tests. Last year, about 3 percent of Mildred Monroe's third-graders and 12 percent of fifth-graders had satisfactory reading scores in the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests.

Hutson-Herring said she has noticed how much more confident good reading skills make her students.

"Just when you walk into the classrooms, they're eager to say, 'Let me read for you,' " Hutson-Herring said. "They feel it."

Veteran mentor

Clarence Brown, who works in the community resource development office of Social Services, has participated in the mentoring program since it began. This year, he will be a mentor to two fourth-graders he helped as third-graders last year -- and it will mean more than being a "big brother," he said.

"We usually try to be positive role models, try to be a friend, to be as supportive as possible," Brown said. "But I can read and I can write, so if I can help them with that, I think that will be good."

Pub Date: 10/11/98

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