On the pathway to perfection

Achievers: A "Six P's" program targeting black children combines African-American culture with accelerated learning.

July 26, 2000|By Laura Dreibelbis | Laura Dreibelbis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Proud, prompt, persistent, productive, polite, prepared. These are the Black Student Achievement Program's "Six P's to Excellence" that serve as a motto for students involved in initiatives that support academic achievement of African-Americans in Howard County.

Whitney Lyles, 13, of Long Reach High School takes the six P's to heart. "I love BSAP because they always tell me to do my best in everything I do," she said.

A division of the Office of Academic Support of the Howard County public school system, BSAP sponsors two summer academic programs designed to accelerate learning. The Summer Learning Camp is for grades two through five and focuses primarily on reading and math skills, while children in middle and high schools attend the Summer Bridge program, which covers several subjects.

Both programs integrate African-American culture, style and awareness into the daily curriculum. Lynne Newsome, BSAP's elementary schools facilitator, says that children respond to a culturally based instructional program because it speaks to their learning style.

Educators use an "R" system - ritual, rhythm, repetition, recitation and relationships - to merge culture with academics at the Summer Learning Camp for 65 elementary school-age pupils at Bryant Woods Elementary in Columbia.

The daily morning ritual of forming a Unity Circle is an attempt to build pride and a sense of connection among pupils and staff members. Songs, recitations and repeating proud moments enhance reading and math lessons. Rhythm and repetition are used to cement new vocabulary words, and children who use new words correctly are rewarded with stickers.

Children are reminded that they have a responsibility to work hard and pursue education to achieve their dreams and honor their ancestors. During the opening and closing programs, children are invited to share something that makes them feel good about themselves; their efforts are affirmed with applause.

Nearby, at Wilde Lake High School, 170 middle and high school students are attending the Summer Bridge program to boost academic achievement for the next school year. Standards and expectations are high. A 3.0 grade point average is expected, with no grades below a "C." Classes are small, and instruction is intensive, designed to accelerate learning.

Gloria Washington, the program director, said she wants young people to love learning and become successful students. She said she wants to "help them see themselves beyond high school" by expecting to attend college and earn degrees.

Brittny Washington, Gloria Washington's daughter who is in her second year at Morgan State University on a full academic scholarship, attended Summer Bridge and has returned as a teaching assistant for math and English. One of her goals is to instill the importance of earning good grades.

Summer Bridge also incorporates elements of African-American culture into its daily activities. Gloria Washington and the staff help students understand who they are as African-Americans and what they can become. Negative academic and personal experiences are to be left behind.

The six P's appear on red T-shirts worn by everyone, and they adorn classroom bulletin boards. Nguzo Saba - the Seven Principles - also are posted in classrooms to serve as guidelines for daily living.

Each of the Seven Principles is translated into English, and is provided in a handout filled with motivational poems and lessons. The Seven Principles are Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamma (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith).

For Antonio Harrod, 14, his first year in Summer Bridge is a success.

Like many, he didn't relish the thought of summer schoolwork. Now he thinks the program helps black students accomplish their goals, and he is striving to improve his reading skills.

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