City to get Safe Schools federal grant

$2.6 million in funds announced at summit for parents, educators

Kids need `web of support'

Speakers at meeting urge participation on part of more adults

September 12, 1999|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore school system will receive $2.6 million this year to help identify troubled youths and prevent violence at 10 city schools under a grant announced yesterday by President Clinton in his weekly radio address.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings delivered the news yesterday at Lake Clifton Eastern High School during a summit with parents, politicians and educators who gathered to brainstorm plans for making classrooms safer and encouraging parents to become a larger part of their children's education.

"So many [children] come to school unprepared and with so many needs, the school can't be all things to all people," said Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat. "Things like this, that address health and safety, opens the door for the comprehensive, whole-village approach."

The federal grant is part of Clinton's Safe Schools/ Healthy Schools Initiative, which this year will dole out $106 million to 54 school districts nationwide. The grant program grew out of the reaction to the killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

Baltimore was among hundreds of communities that applied for help to develop local programs to curb youth violence.

The money will be used to expand existing school system programs with the Baltimore Mental Health Systems, city Police Department and state Department of Juvenile Justice.

The grant, which will be made available Oct. 1, is likely to be renewed for two years, Cummings said.

Two middle schools and eight elementary schools will initially benefit from the grant, officials said. They did not identify which schools would receive the grant money.

At the daylong summit that drew about 300 of the parents, principals and teachers from schools that feed Lake Clifton and Forest Park high schools, Cummings, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and public schools chief Robert Booker pleaded for parent involvement in the schools to help create the support needed for students to thrive.

"The need for parental involvement is recognized as being an important element in turning the system around," Booker said. "We want the parents to know you are a critical part of this endeavor. We're sincere when we say we need your involvement in this school system."

School board members said they hoped the meeting would generate new ideas and foster relationships between the schools and parents.

Board members also said they hoped it could help build a ground-swell of support for new methods of parental involvement the board may consider in the future.

James P. Comer, founder and chairman of the Comer School Development Program, was the keynote speaker. His method of organizing school programs with the help of parents within a management team has been used in about 700 schools nationwide.

He said that although technology, industry and family structures in our society have changed, the needs of children have not. In order to raise healthy children, he said, adults need to create the essential elements of an involved community.

"Growing up as a child, we were caught in a seamless web of support," Comer said. "All these adults were locked in a conspiracy to be sure we were going to become responsible young adults. The home and school must come together to provide support and to get to know one another."

The parents and teachers later broke into discussion groups to brainstorm ways to make schools safer, improve communication between the schools and community and improve students' health.

Popular ideas included restoring health suites in every school, providing adequate security in hallways and bathrooms on buses, and encouraging active parent involvement to create strong Parent-Teacher Associations.

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