Columbia teen-ager honored as a top youth volunteer in Maryland


June 02, 1999|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE DAUGHTER of Dorsey Hall residents Robert and Lisa Black is a 16-year-old junior at Wilde Lake High School. Last month, Robin Black was awarded a bronze medal as one of Maryland's top youth volunteers in the 1999 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

Robin is one of many Columbia teen-agers whose positive contributions provide a counterbalance to the popular image of teen culture.

The awards are presented annually by Prudential Insurance Co. of America and the National Association of Secondary School Principals to honor middle and high school students at the local, state and national levels for community service.

Nearly 20,000 young volunteers were considered for recognition this year.

Robin was nominated by Wilde Lake Principal Roger Plunkett and social studies teacher Marcy Leonard. Leonard is sponsor, or faculty adviser, of the school's Student Government Association.

"Robin is an active young lady who is involved in a lot of community service projects," Plunkett said. "She's also our new SGA president, and we're looking forward to working with her because she is extremely organized and efficient."

In response to a 1996 incident at the school that resulted in the death of teacher Lawrence Hoyer, Robin helped create SAVE -- Students Against Violent Encounters.

"We were talking about what happened to Dr. Hoyer in English class, and we thought that even though we're just high school students, we could make a difference and prevent incidents like this from happening in the future," Robin said.

"By acting as role models and going into elementary and middle schools, we're able to spread the message of nonviolence and teach the consequences and alternatives to violence."

As community service coordinator for the SGA, Robin organized projects to benefit the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center and the Maryland Food Bank. And she arranged for a panel of speakers to discuss the impact of acquired immune deficiency syndrome in the community -- in conjunction with a display of the AIDS Quilt at Wilde Lake High. Robin organized the Wilde Lake bid for a section of the quilt through the Maryland Association of Student Councils. The Names Project of San Francisco sends the quilt segments to locations around the country.

A member of the National Honor Society, Robin also finds time to participate in the Big Brother/Big Sister program in Columbia. Once a week, she goes to Bryant Woods Elementary School to help a fifth-grade pupil with science, math or social studies.

Robin hopes other students will follow her example, and points out the hidden benefits of community service. "I know it's good for the community, but you also grow as a person by serving others," she said.

Lisa Black is sometimes surprised by all that her daughter is able to accomplish.

"She's remarkable," Black said. "We know that she's capable, but we are very proud of the effort she puts into everything she does."

If you know of a teen who deserves recognition, call 410-992-7511. We'd like to share more good news about Columbia's youth.

A second language

When a new pupil from El Salvador joined her class last fall, Melissa Helsing, 9, wondered how her teachers would communicate with him, because he spoke only Spanish.

Melissa is at Swansfield Elementary School. Thirteen languages are spoken by pupils at the school, said Joann Olchowski, gifted and talented resource teacher.

Many children know at most a few English words, and some have parents who also speak no English.

Non-English-speaking pupils attend ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes in Howard County public schools.

Melissa's interest in her classmate led her to explore the problem through a Type III investigation in the Gifted and Talented program at Swansfield. A Type III investigation is a research project in the gifted and talented program in which a child identifies a problem and sets about finding the solution to it.

After surveying teachers at Swansfield to hear their concerns in working with ESOL pupils, Melissa developed a brochure, Helpful Hints For Teachers To Use When Working With Students Who Do Not Speak English.

The third-grader concentrated her research on Korean, Hispanic, Asian and Middle Eastern peoples. Her brochure describes cultural differences that teachers should be aware of when working with ESOL pupils.

For example, in some cultures, children do not look adults in the eye.

Melissa listed important phrases and key vocabulary words to work on with children and included tips for dealing effectively with parents of ESOL pupils.

Melissa also created 100 flash cards for teachers and classroom volunteers to use. The flash cards display computer graphics and pictures from magazines to help ESOL pupils learn key English words.

Melissa field-tested her flash cards with the boy from El Salvador.

"I feel Melissa has really made a student-to-student effort to make ESOL students feel more welcome and comfortable at Swansfield," Olchowski said.

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