Public schools and churches work together Outreach: Churches, schools and parents collaborate in Worcester County to offer pupils a chance to catch up in the late afternoon.

The Education Beat

November 04, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

BERLIN -- THESE DAYS, daylight is already fading when the Worcester County school bus pulls up to Buckingham Presbyterian Church and discharges 25 kids, on their way to a couple of hours of late-afternoon study in reading and math.

The professional educators are waiting for them, and so are the volunteers -- Ocean Pines retirees Bernard and Audrey Buchholz, for example, and three teen-agers from Stephen Decatur middle and high schools. Nearby, other teachers and volunteers get rolling in the social halls of two Berlin Methodist churches.

First there's a snack, then completion of the day's homework assignments. Finally, an hour or so of instruction before parents collect their kids. There's no recreation component in Project Outreach, designed as a remedial academic program, pure and simple.

Many districts have after-school programs to bring kids who are lagging in the basic skills up to grade level. Rural Worcester County does it deliberately -- without guilt or apology -- in church.

Makes a lot of sense, Worcester school officials say. Churches are usually centrally located, near schools. They have the room. They have kitchens, and they have bathrooms. They also have parents. As Worcester Superintendent Jon Andes puts it, "It's the school, the church and the parents who make a child a success academically. The three are integral. They should be, they ought to be, they need to be."

Mark Bowen, the 33-year-old principal of Buckingham Elementary in Berlin, drops by the church to see how his charges are progressing.

"We did think about the church-state issue when we started the program last year," Bowen says. "We're not trying to bring religion into the schools. We're doing no preaching here. But the church and the school don't have to be separate entities. After all, we're sharing the same resources -- the parents and students. They're the resources."

Worcester officials don't have hard data on the economic effects of Project Outreach, funded by a federal grant channeled through the State Department of Education. But Bowen says he's seen an improvement in grades and attitudes, while Matthew Price, an 8-year-old fourth-grader in the program, says he's "doing better" in social studies.

Worcester is Maryland's anomalous school district. Stretching 40 miles from Delaware to Virginia, the state's only Atlantic Coast subdivision is rural, though it has a city named Ocean. It's wage-poor and property-rich, with land and buildings on the Ocean City strand putting more wealth behind each student ($422,000 last year) than anywhere else in the Free State. As a result, Worcester's property tax rate ($1.72 per $100) and piggy-back rate (20 percent) are envied across Maryland.

"If wealth were the entire determinant of achievement in school, Worcester would be far ahead of anyone else in Maryland," says R. Allan Gorsuch, superintendent in nearby Caroline County, one of the state's poorest by all measures. "But they're not contributing to their schools at the rates the others do."

Andes, 44, says he has the support of his communities, and he's proud of gradually increasing scores (though still not on schedule to reach state goals by 2000) on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests. "We're a close family here, and that's one of the reasons we can work cooperatively with churches."

He can also gather every third-grade teacher in one room for a session on improving his county's MSPAP performance -- as he did Monday. "We're so small that we can work in an intimate atmosphere," says Andes. "It's really a blessing."

'The Runaway Bride' has Worcester stargazing

It's a wonder they haven't changed Buckingham Elementary to Hale Elementary. Berlin has been changed to Hale, Md., for the filming here this month of "The Runaway Bride," starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. Talk in school circles is of nothing else.

Downtown Berlin was closed to traffic Monday as residents stood in small groups, hoping for a Roberts or Gere sighting. The two are said to be giving autographs only to children, and the movie has benefited Snow Hill High School, where a scene was filmed in which Gere played a football coach.

As a reward for the disruption, Paramount Pictures paid for the restoration of a softball field, said Betty C. Lynch, the Worcester Title I coordinator.

Pub Date: 11/04/98

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