Edmondson Village to get taste of Japanese teaching method

Sankofa center to offer tutoring in math, reading

January 14, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Dontray Colbert figures he can be an engineer, if only he masters math.

So the 15-year-old Edmondson/ Westside High School freshman has enrolled in an after-school program designed to help him calculate with comfort.

"Right now I'm making C's, and my goal is B's and A's," said Dontray, who is taking algebra at Edmondson. "I want to try to bring my grades up."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in some editions of The Sun Monday about a Japanese-style math and reading program gave incorrect titles for Rosalind A. Ambrose and Donald E. Debnam, who are co-directors of Kumon of West Baltimore-Sankofa. The story also did not indicate that the program is open to all children, regardless of household income. The Sun regrets the errors.

Today, Dontray and about 35 other students from five Baltimore public schools will begin taking Kumon classes. Developed in 1954 by Japanese math instructor Toru Kumon, the discipline is designed to help children in prekindergarten through 12th grade improve reading and math skills. The program uses worksheets and repetitive exercises to improve children's focus and work habits.

Kumon made its debut in the United States in 1974 in Larchmont, N.Y., and today there are more than 1,000 Kumon centers nationwide, including 26 in Maryland, said John Marsh, branch manager for Kumon in the Washington region, which includes Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Delaware.

The Kumon center is opening at the Sankofa Community Development Corp., 2 N. Wickham Road, and will be Baltimore's first, said Rosalind A. Ambrose. She, with Donald E. Debnam, is co-director of the Sankofa CDC. Both also are certified Kumon instructors.

The Sankofa CDC is the nonprofit community development group affiliated with West Baltimore's New Psalmist Baptist Church, one of the city's largest congregations.

"I brought the idea to Sankofa last summer," Ambrose said. "Sankofa had been looking for some kind of educational initiative to benefit the Edmondson Village ZIP code area. Part of our mission is to help empower the community so that we can help build it up. The church is basically the centerpiece of that area right now, and whatever happens in the community impacts the church."

A $20,000 grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation will fund the classes for one year, Ambrose said.

Marsh said Kumon classes in the Washington region typically cost $80 to $100 a month per student.

To qualify for the Kumon program, students had to live in the 21229 ZIP code or within two miles of New Psalmist, and their total household income could not exceed $30,000, Ambrose said.

Four certified instructors will teach Kumon classes at the Sankofa center, Ambrose said. Officials are recruiting high school students from the city and Baltimore County to serve as tutorial assistants and receive volunteer work credit toward graduation.

Officials plan to pick up the kids from their schools and bring them to Kumon classes Mondays and Thursdays, when the program is offered. The program is self-paced, said Ambrose -- some children might be there for 20 minutes, some an hour or longer.

Donnell Colbert and his wife, Marlene, are thankful that their son has this chance to improve his math skills. Colbert attended Baltimore City Community College, and his wife graduated in 1984 from Coppin State College. Education is very important to them, Colbert said.

"Right now, they're doing equations in algebra, and he's having a little trouble with it," Colbert said. He said he appreciates New Psalmist for offering the program.

"We need more faith-based programs in the community for the kids," Colbert said. "A lot of children ... are not getting the direction they need at home. If they can get it from a church-oriented group, something that will get them grounded, I'm all for it."

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