Schools push for pupils to seek higher degrees

May 04, 2000|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County school administrators unveiled a program yesterday that they hope will bolster academic achievement and encourage more middle school pupils to pursue advanced degrees after high school.

Administrators call the effort Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs -- or GEAR UP. Model programs have been set up at Lansdowne and Dundalk middle schools -- where more than half the pupils are enrolled in free and reduced-price lunch programs -- with the hope that the programs will be replicated at schools throughout the county. A similar program is in the works at Deer Park Middle School.

Studies have shown that children from families with lower incomes are less likely to attend college than those from middle- or upper-class backgrounds. School officials said they hope GEAR UP will break that cycle and encourage more pupils to "dream big."

"It's important that we hook up with the middle schools to get students ready for their college years," said Q. Estelle Collins, director of secondary curriculum and instruction. "If we want more children to go to college, we have to do all we can to see that that happens."

At Dundalk Middle, Principal Frank Passaro has started a tutoring program to improve math skills. He wants pupils to pass mandatory state mathematics exams before they leave eighth grade so they can enroll in college preparatory courses, such as geometry and calculus, in high school.

"We can't raise the bar for these students unless we give them the ramp they need to get there," said James H. Wilson, director of the school system's office of minority achievement and multicultural education.

Money to pay for the two math tutors is from an $80,000 grant the school system received in March as part of President Clinton's High Hopes for College initiative.

Wilson and Collins are confident they will get $160,000 during the next school year from the Clinton program to expand GEAR UP.

"We fit the criteria perfectly," said Collins. She and Wilson plan to work with Community College of Baltimore County campuses in Dundalk and Catonsville.

Parents of children at Dundalk and Lansdowne middle schools will be invited to participate during the next school year and could receive counseling on how to apply for financial aid for college.

Some pupils in the Dundalk area might be the first in their immediate family to contemplate pursuing an advanced degree, said Passaro. In the 1980s, many residents depended on high-paying jobs with Bethlehem Steel Corp. and General Motors Corp. to support their households. But today, most of those jobs -- which didn't require degrees -- are gone.

Still, most pupils at Dundalk Middle School are aware of the competitive atmosphere outside the classroom, said Assistant Principal Cheryl D. Thim. During career days, students ask what advanced degrees are needed to be teachers and lawyers.

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