Stellar spellers MUCH WILL be made of the fact that the...


June 10, 2000

Stellar spellers

MUCH WILL be made of the fact that the top three finishers in this year's Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee were home-schooled. The fact will be used to argue that parents are the most effective teachers for their children, but it makes another point just as well: Small classes work.

The winner, George Abraham Thampy, has six siblings -- three brothers and three sisters -- in his class, taught by his mother. Little escapes a teacher with a class this size. She can determine quickly who has done their homework, who isn't learning or who's misbehaving.

It therefore should be no surprise that 27 other spelling bee contestants -- of the 248 competing -- were home-schooled. Individual instruction produces exceptional results regardless of whether the child is taught at home or in a public school.

The Sun 's Howard Libit wrote recently that students attending Georgetown East Elementary in Anne Arundel County have excelled in reading thanks in part to one-on-one instruction.

Small class size is not the only ingredient needed for children to excel. A solid curriculum is also necessary. Add instructional focus and consistency, and you have the formula for learning.

There's not much mystery here.

Quiet company

NOONTIME at the church of St. Nicholas, Greektown: Tables full of red votives glow with dancing flames; garlands of lillies trace arched doorways. Under the watchful eyes of the apostles, Panagia Skiadeni waits, framed by flowers and light.

Panagia (Our Blessed Mother) has come to Ponca Street to relieve aching souls and hear the whispered longings of her faithful.

An elderly woman slowly approaches the holy icon, turns and gestures to her husband: Come closer. Then, as 800 years of pilgrims have done from Rhodes to Greektown, she kisses Panagia. Kneeling into a white embroidered pillow so soft it closes around your calves, she searches the fading eyes of Mary, speaking quietly to her.

Later, after others have come and wondered at this traveling treasure, the woman returns, reaching down to pick up a fallen rose petal from the pillow. Tucking it close to her heart, she leans in, spreading her worn fingers one last time across the faces of Mary and Jesus. Speaking earnestly, she lingers for many minutes before she leaves Panagia's side.

Outside help for NSA

INFORMATION technology is moving so quickly that not even the world's premier intelligence gatherer can keep up.

The National Security Agency, which monitors and decodes data from around the world, once reputedly built better computers than IBM. But its systems have fallen behind, as became embarrassingly obvious in January, when a computer blackout left the agency out of the loop.

Now the NSA is turning to a consortium of companies to upgrade and operate networks, phones, e-mail and other systems.

Outsourcing is not new to the agency. It is, in fact, a wise move aimed at staying ahead in the spy game.

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