School teaches students to beat real-world problems

Hannah More helps disabled children succeed

April 01, 2002|By Linda Linley | Linda Linley,SUN STAFF

The foundation has been laid, the surrounding brickwork is in place, and the pavers are being grouted. Weather permitting, teacher John Guidera and his students at the Hannah More School will soon be able to finish the gazebo in the nearby park in Reisterstown.

The gazebo, a project of the building trades students in the school's vocational program, will be in the Hannah More Park in the 12000 block of Reisterstown Road in Baltimore County.

"It will be a gift for the community," Guidera said.

Paid for with a grant from the Building Congress & Exchange Foundation, the gazebo was built in an oversized classroom stocked with power and woodworking tools that would make most shop teachers envious. Guidera and his 12 students built the 16-foot 6-inch tall, hexagonal gazebo in sections in the 1 1/2 -story classroom, then prepared the site.

"We had to excavate the site, and that was tough," Guidera said. "But the project was big enough to show the students how to solve problems from beginning to end."

For Jeremy Ford, 15, and Demetrius Brown, 16, both of Anne Arundel County, it was a challenge that taught them about measuring, drilling, chiseling and sawing.

"One of the good parts is that we get to see our creations come together," Ford said.

Both students are learning building skills in the school's Decker Career Technology Education Program, which offers training in the building trades, auto mechanics, culinary arts, horticulture and communications.

Begun four years ago, the Decker classes are taught by people who have worked in the trades. The program enrolls 29 full-time students, with an additional 90 taking vocational classes, according to Donna Clare, Hannah More's development director. The Decker students also are required to complete academic courses to receive a high school diploma.

The career center is named for the late Alonzo G. Decker Jr., former chairman of the board of Black & Decker Corp. Decker was honorary chairman of a $4.3 million capital campaign when Hannah More was raising money to build the center and a middle school.

Hannah More is a private special-education school for middle and high school students in grades six through 12 who are emotionally disturbed or autistic, or have learning disabilities or behavior problems. The 138 students from around the Baltimore area were referred by their home school districts. The annual tuition is $44,000.

School President Mark Waldman said the students who come to Hannah More would have trouble attending public schools. At Hannah More, he said, they don't feel threatened as they learn skills that will help them find jobs.

The students stay an average of 2 1/2 to three years, Waldman said. The goal is to enable them to transfer back to their public schools.

Sade Taylor, 16, and Nicholas Sauer, 18, both of Anne Arundel County, are learning about sanitation, safety, knife skills and piping from their culinary arts instructor, Pearline Holland.

Taylor's first choice in the vocational program was culinary arts because she said she cooks all the time at home. She plans to attend Anne Arundel Community College and become a certified chef. She said the more experience she gets, the better.

"I don't ever want to work in the fast-food business," Taylor said.

Holland said the 18 students in culinary arts are taught first about sanitation and then about safety. They are learning on the job, preparing cafeteria lunches for the students and faculty in the commercially equipped kitchen. They also prepare dinners for school events and have catered meals for civic groups.

"The beauty of this program is that the more exposure and the more hands-on experience, the better success for the students when they leave the school," said Ann Marie Lane, a transition specialist with the Division of Special Education and Early Intervention Service with the state Department of Education. "It's a big bonus for the students."

Hannah More employs 26 teachers, 25 teacher assistants, a full-time psychiatrist, a clinical psychologist, 12 social workers, two therapists, two substance-abuse counselors and a nurse. The school is supervised by the state Department of Education but has a board of directors that sets policy and bears financial responsibility.

Jay Kilchenstein and the 18 students in the horticulture program maintain the school grounds and greenhouse. They have planted seedlings for summer flowers and vegetables in the greenhouse and are making hanging baskets for Mother's Day.

Creating flower arrangements appeals to Bryan Buckingham, 16, and Lacey Roden, 15, both of Carroll County.

"They have an artistic sense," Kilchenstein said. "They know what looks good and can put different designs together." The horticulture students also have made flower arrangements and sold wreaths and pumpkins to raise funds for their prom.

Hannah More is about seeing students succeed, said Michael Kerins, director of education.

"Sometimes, saying `Good morning' is a success," he said. "When kids feel connected, they make an attempt to make a connection in the community outside."

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