Celebrities help to launch reading programs in city Actor James Earl Jones, author Tom Clancy appear

October 20, 1998|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

The voice roared through City Springs Elementary School's auditorium yesterday, causing a hush to ricochet through the room.

It was a voice they had heard before -- Darth Vader in "Star Wars" and King Mufasa in "The Lion King" -- but now the school's 344 pupils sat face-to-stage with the real deal: actor James Earl Jones.

Jones was at the East Baltimore school bringing to life the children's book "Where the Wild Things Are" and to launch Bell Atlantic's reading partnership, "Books and Breakfast," with the school.

His was one of a handful of celebrity appearances in Baltimore schools yesterday. To begin a second program, Teach for America Week, such notables as author Tom Clancy and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke taught at other schools.

"These things are so inspirational to the students," said Robert Booker, city schools chief executive officer. "It's critical for young children to be able to identify with role models."

Principal Bernice Whelchel said Jones helped reinforce the program, which began Sept. 28 as a component of The Sun's Reading by 9 initiative. Throughout the year, more than 125 Bell Atlantic employees will read to 70 first- and second-graders at breakfast.

"The kids normally don't want to eat because they are so mesmerized by the books," she said.

Bell Atlantic chose City Springs because many pupils read below grade level, said Sandra Arnette, company spokeswoman. Last year, two pupils (3.4 percent) reached or passed the satisfactory level in third-grade reading in the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program. The state had set a goal of 14 third-graders scoring satisfactory on the reading portion of the exam.

In other city schools and around the country, Teach for America launched its weeklong event to raise awareness about the need for teachers and bring role models into classrooms, said Roger Schulman, executive director for Teach America Baltimore.

Other participants will include City Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier and Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools.

Teach for America recruits college graduates, who commit to two years of teaching, and places them in urban and rural schools with fewer resources than needed. Since 1989, the organization has placed almost 5,000 teachers, and since 1992, 280 teachers in Baltimore, Schulman said.

Deborah Wortham, principal of Rognel Heights Elementary and Middle School in West Baltimore, said the program provided four of her 40 teachers this year. "They come with something you can't give them: a passion for wanting to help children learn," she said.

Clancy, who has written 10 best-selling novels, and Doug Becker, president of Sylvan Learning Systems Inc., taught classes yesterday at Rognel Heights.

After Becker talked to fourth-graders about business, Clancy fielded questions from an eighth-grade English class on such topics as how he wrote his novels and his favorite food.

He talked about his 20-year quest to get published. "My ambition was to see my name on the cover of a book," Clancy said.

Nakia Smith, 13, said she was inspired. "He made me want to become a writer," she said.

Pub Date: 10/20/98

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