Getting a little extra boost

Pupils get help with homework, explore careers

February 22, 2000|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Left unsupervised, 9-year-old Raymond St. Louis would gladly let himself into his house after school and play video games on his Sega Dreamcast until his parents came home from work.

Homework, he acknowledged, would be pretty low on the list of evening activities. Teachers at Deep Run Elementary School in Elkridge, where Raymond is a fourth-grader, said it showed in his class work.

Raymond is the kind of pupil staff members at Deep Run had in mind when they started their Career Connections Club, or Triple C, in October.

With a little extra time spent in school after the last bell rings -- doing homework, projects and team-building activities -- Raymond's grades might improve, and his elementary school years might be more rewarding.

"We targeted kids we thought would benefit from thinking about careers, and that this would help them in school," said Deep Run Principal Fran Donaldson. "Those who would benefit from the help with their homework and just benefit from being here rather than going home to a baby sitter or an empty house."

So far, it seems to be working, Donaldson said. Club participants turn in their homework more often, and with more correct answers, than they did before. And their in-school behavior is better, too.

"We thought maybe their behavior would improve if they had a better, closer relationship with staff members and a feeling of belonging," Donaldson said.

Thirty-nine first- through fifth-graders are in Triple C at Deep Run. Many of the children receive free or reduced-price lunches, come from single-parent homes or homes in which both parents work.

Early career exposure

The Howard County Chamber of Commerce funds the pilot program at Deep Run and Laurel Woods elementary schools and at Murray Hill Middle School in North Laurel.

Each school uses its funds differently, but the main thrust of Triple C is the same: to expose schoolchildren to career paths early and help them with the schoolwork and social skills they will need to succeed in those careers.

At Deep Run three afternoons a week, all Triple C pupils eat a snack in the cafeteria and go to homework club, where teachers help them study for spelling tests, solve math problems and understand passages in textbooks.

"If they need help or if they even need to be retaught something, we're all teachers in there," said Olivia Jeffers, who teaches first grade at Deep Run and is the club's coordinator. "They don't finish, but we're hoping they at least get a start."

Enrichment activities

After homework club, the pupils take part in enrichment activities, including cooking class, team sports, model-making class and career connections.

In coming weeks, the Deep Run club will add a computer class and field trips to job sites -- such as Target -- to see what kinds of jobs people have.

"There's a whole lot of different needs here. This is a very needy school," Jeffers said. "Whatever we're doing from 3: 30 to 5 p.m. seems to be working, though. It's just a little something, but something little becomes something big when you're a kid."

In the first few weeks of Triple C, 10-year-old Janice Barger pondered her interests -- shopping, collecting teddy bears, helping children. But with Jeffers' gentle prodding, what she found especially intriguing were the ocean and the creatures that reside there. She's thinking about becoming a marine biologist.

In the next few weeks, Janice will learn about the career. She'll do Internet searches, read articles and books, and possibly interview a marine biologist. Jeffers will help Janice and her classmates find mentors.

Outlandish is OK

"If anybody out there knows anyone who skates for a living, let me know," she said. "I've got one little boy who wants to be a professional Rollerblader."

But that's OK, Jeffers said. Outlandish or impractical is fine, as long as the children put thought into their dream career and begin to realize what it takes to "become" anything -- doctor, lawyer or sequined disco dancer.

"It's OK to say they want to be several things right now because they're young," Jeffers said. "It's also OK to be more than one thing. And not knowing is OK, too, as long as they're thinking about it."

Many paths

Before Triple C, Raymond said, he didn't think much about what he wanted to be when he grows up. Now he's pretty sure he wants to be a hip-hop star like his idol, rapper Jay-Z.

Other pupils in the club aspire to be teachers, hairdressers, astronauts, veterinarians, basketball players.

Ten-year-old Joseph Dilsaver wants to be an in-line skater, a bicyclist and a lawyer, because "that's just enough to become a millionaire."

Some latecomers to the club are still working on self-exploration: writing poems about themselves and making collages about their interests. More schoolchildren are asked to join as teachers see a need -- because of bad behavior, a sharp slip in grades or a distracting home situation, such as divorce.

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