An updated lesson in civics Balto. County students get an up-close look at governing in new course

November 17, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

To start American Education Week in her ninth-grade government class at Milford Mill Academy, Khellia Koonce asked teacher-for-a-day C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger what she would need "if I want to have your job" -- that of Baltimore County executive.

Instead of the standard classroom civics answer about minimum age and residency, she got a politician's practical response, with a primer on Ruppersberger's feelings about public service.

"You've got to be crazy, first. Then you need luck, timing and opportunity," said the 52-year-old executive, who won re-election two weeks ago. "You have to want to help people and be interested in issues."

It was a response that set the right tone for the class of 22 gifted and talented and International Baccalaureate students at Milford Mill, who represent the county's first attempt at a redesigned -- and more sophisticated -- civics course.

That course, called American Government, is intended to prepare the students for 2001, when high school students must begin passing Maryland's newest standardized tests.

"By the end of the year, they'll be examining everything from political campaigns to social issues to public policy -- like how government deals with a problem like homelessness," said county social studies coordinator Nancy J. Brooks, who said the county spent $275,000 on texts for the course.

Yesterday, with county school Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione and several other school officials sitting in the back, Ruppersberger ran through his litany of priorities.

Improving education and public safety, renewing older neighborhoods and creating jobs have been his themes for the past four years, and he briefly discussed each one.

The students in teacher Kimberly Fitch's class asked Ruppersberger about slot machines, health care, capital budget borrowing, public aid to private schools and taxes, as well as subjects that affect students more directly.

Kim Stein asked if having police Officer Donald Bridges assigned full time to their school -- part of a new community policing program -- creates a safer atmosphere.

She and Ruppersberger eventually agreed that it does, although she said some students are a bit intimidated. An officer is also assigned to Pikesville High School in an effort to bring county police closer to teen-agers and head off problems.

Another student, Marsha Reid, asked Ruppersberger what satisfaction he got from his job.

Ruppersberger had a quick reply.

"It's tremendously satisfying to make a difference," he said. "I got over 70 percent of the vote, and I won in every precinct. Our plan is working."

But there's more to it than that, he told them.

"I like to get out. I like people," he said.

Still, he said, one cost of public life is that "you have to sacrifice. My wife -- I wouldn't want to be married to me, because you're just never there."

The job also can mean a loss of privacy. Ruppersberger recalled his vacation to Oregon and Washington this year, where he and his wife, Kay, reveled in their anonymity -- until they were approached in a restaurant by a diner who said, "Hi, Dutch!"

Pub Date: 11/17/98


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