Good wishes for Westport

Help: Howard pupils form a partnership -- and perhaps a friendship -- with their counterparts from a Baltimore school.

April 06, 2000|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

They stood on the loading dock at Baltimore's Westport Elementary School, two distinct groups, casting furtive glances at each other -- one with elaborate up-do's, burgundy-streaked hair and short 'fros, the other with blond ponytails, glittered eyelids and sporty Ralph Lauren shirts.

The latter group -- from affluent Clarksville Middle School -- had never been to the Westport/Mount Winans community, 30 miles away in Southwest Baltimore. The former had ventured into the other's neck of the woods only as far as The Mall in Columbia.

Yesterday, their differences brought them together. After five months of a quiet partnership between the two schools, schoolchildren from Clarksville got a chance to meet their peers from Westport, as they helped deliver more than 2,000 new and used books to the city school's scant media center.

While carrying boxes of books from a rented truck, the children said little to each other but smiled often. "I wonder if one of them is my pen pal," Westport eighth-grader Cassandra Taylor said to a friend, loud enough for everyone to hear.

"Hey, me and him have on the same shoes," Clarksville seventh-grader Brittany Estrain said to a friend, pointing out Westport eighth-grader Gregory Reese, hoping he would hear. Gregory turned his back, smiling.

It was an introductory meeting that teachers at both schools want to turn into a full-fledged friendship -- and a partnership they hope will continue.

The connection between the two schools started in November when Westport Elementary social worker Mary Troutman needed to find warm coats for two pupils.

Troutman, who lives in Howard County, immediately thought of Clarksville because of the community's affluence and called the school's guidance counselor, Arlene Katz. She described the conditions at Westport and asked for help. Coincidentally, the PTA at Clarksville was looking for a charitable activity that parents, teachers and schoolchildren could work on together.

They decided to help Westport -- but not just with coats.

"We wanted it from the beginning that it not be a December project, that we just help them over Christmas, and then that's it and everybody just forgets about it," said Clarksville Principal Harriette Greenberg.

After the coat drive, which provided blankets, more than 100 coats and many hats, gloves, mittens and scarves for the children in the school who needed them, Clarksville parents and teachers started thinking ahead, beyond the new year.

They knew a partnership between the two schools would benefit both communities. Westport teachers and pupils would get things they needed. Clarksville would get a mural painted by Westport kids. Both groups would make new friends.

So they adopted a logo -- Wishes for Westport -- and the donations poured in:

In January, the Clarksville seventh grade collected school supplies for all the Westport teachers who needed everything from yardsticks to Elmer's glue.

In February, Clarksville started a book drive. More than 1,500 new and used books were collected from homes and other county schools, including encyclopedias, atlases and dictionaries.

Teachers donated $148,000 worth of Giant supermarket receipts -- which can be redeemed for school resources -- to Westport, enabling teachers there to buy eight globes, an anatomy set with a full-sized skeleton and a replica of a human, with removable artificial organs.

In March, a fund-raiser was held at Clarksville, with dinners provided by Carrabba's Italian Grill. More than $3,500 was raised for Westport.

Schoolchildren purchased Scholastic books at a fair that same night. For each one purchased, they chose another for Westport's library. More than 600 new books were bought for the school.

Parents helped buy gym equipment for Westport.

The Scholastic company donated $500. A Clarksville teacher whose father had died started a fund for Westport in his name. Community members donated cash and checks for a total of about $5,000, which has not been used.

"Westport, in my opinion, is a school that is overlooked and forgotten," Troutman said. "People have allowed it to be completely overlooked, and it really isn't fair. This was overwhelming to us because not only did the [Clarksville] school decide to do this, but the community got behind them 100 percent. I could have gone to many of the other schools and I wouldn't have gotten this response."

Yesterday, Clarksville delivered the truckload of books and some preschool toys, furniture and supplies for the pre-K classes at Westport.

Next month, Westport seventh-graders will visit the seventh-graders in Clarksville and participate in a field day with games and activities.

And there's more planned for next school year, Greenberg said.

Clarksville parents said they can afford to give their time and money, because -- though the community doesn't have everything -- they are financially well-off.

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