A safe start for schools

Education: Among the changes awaiting students in some county public schools will be conflict resolution classes.

August 30, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

About sunrise today, drivers will be revving up the school bus engines as some 75,000 students begin heading back to Anne Arundel County classrooms for the start of a new school year.

The number represents an increase of about 500 students, spread across the system's 120 schools.

Many will be greeted by new faces in the classroom -- 560 new teachers among the approximately 8,000 in Anne Arundel. Principals and school personnel have been scrambling to hire teachers to fill vacancies and register new students for the 1999-2000 school year.

While most teaching positions have been filled, substitute teachers are in great demand, said system spokeswoman Jane Doyle.

Salaries for substitute teachers have increased from $45 to $47.50 a day for those with a two-year degree, and from $60.50 to $67.50 a day for those with a four-year degree. Long-term substitutes also received a pay increase, from $90 to $92.50 a day.

After a rash of shootings nationwide, educators have made security a priority. Last week, police, fire and school officials held an emergency drill at Chesapeake High School, and officials say they plan to hold similar drills at other schools this year.

Prevention

Teaching children methods to resolve conflict without violence is also on the educators' agenda and is a goal of the "No Put Downs" program that will start at 30 county elementary schools.

"We certainly don't want a situation like that in Anne Arundel County," said Suzan Cotter, a guidance counselor at Edgewater Elementary School, referring to the shootings April 20 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. "And everything that we can do to prevent it is worth doing. There are other skills that need to be taught, but this is a good start."

"No Put Downs" was begun three years ago at Edgewater Elementary, where suspensions and discipline referrals have dropped substantially, Cotter said.

The 10-week program, for kindergarten through fifth grade, is taught by the classroom teacher. Lessons focus on identifying a put-down and how children should build each other up rather than tear each other down, Cotter said.

Shields

In one lesson, the children make paper shields and keep them on their desks. If a classmate teases or insults them, Cotter said, they tear off a piece of the shield to symbolize what happens when someone is put down.

"Some kids have a natural shield that they can just let things bounce off," she said. "But others don't, and this teaches them how to handle a put-down without letting it destroy their self-esteem."

Cotter said the program is "teacher-friendly" because it allows them to incorporate the lessons into their language arts curriculum.

"It is everything that we want," Cotter said. "Every lesson is reading, writing, listening or speaking-based."

Parental involvement

Increasing parental involvement is a goal at many schools, and Annapolis Elementary School urged that each pupil arriving today be accompanied by a parent.

Parents will spend the morning in class with their children, meeting teachers, the principal and staff. The visit will end with lunch in the school cafeteria.

"This is a great way to start the year," said Principal Becky Schou. "It gives everyone a chance to get to know each other."

Pub Date: 8/30/99

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