Schools join as `partners in change'

Program: A pilot project brings sixth-graders from Baltimore and Howard County together.

Education

January 21, 2004|By Tawanda W. Johnson | Tawanda W. Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Corey Lacey of Barclay Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore met Ameer Ramadan, who attends Glenelg Country School, sparks didn't immediately fly.

The boys, sixth-graders at very different schools, acknowledged being "nervous" about their meeting last fall as participants in the Maryland Youth Partners in Change - a three-year pilot program that puts together youths from public and private schools to overcome stereotypes and prejudice through service projects and leadership development.

"I wasn't able to talk to him too much," said Corey, 11.

Ameer, also 11, echoed his friend. "I didn't know who he was," he said.

After participating in activities at the Phillips Food Co. headquarters and the National Aquarium in Baltimore; Earth Treks Gym in Columbia; and last week at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore, the boys appeared to be gaining trust in one another.

"I can talk to him better than I used to," said Corey.

Ameer agreed. "I feel better that I can talk to him," he said.

Twenty-four pupils, all sixth-graders, participate in the partnership, which is in its first year. The 12 girls and 12 boys attend Barclay, a Title I school with an enrollment of 450 children in prekindergarten through eighth grade, and Glenelg, a college-preparatory, private day school in western Howard County for prekindergarten through 12th grade with about 700 students.

David Weeks, director of Civic Leadership program at Glenelg, came up with the idea of the partnership about four years ago. "In order for students to be able to be successful, they have to interface in a [diverse world]," he said.

The Glenelg school donated $10,000 to get the program started and will fund $10,000 for each of the remaining two years. Weeks said he is seeking $60,000 more through other sources for the $90,000 total needed.

Because youngsters are inundated with negative images on television, the Internet and other media, Weeks said the program is key to helping prevent risky behavior.

With assistance from parents, teachers and community and business leaders, the partnership is off to a good start, he said.

Weeks said the pupils are at a good age to partake in such a program because they haven't internalized negative opinions about others.

"They are very much in the formative years. ... They're more flexible and more trusting of people," he said.

This school year, the pupils will participate in activities at seven locations throughout the Baltimore region, including Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, Fort McHenry, the Baltimore Zoo and the Teen Center at The Barn in Columbia.

The program's yearly themes are: sixth grade, building relationships; seventh grade, social advocacy; and eighth grade, social activism, which would involved returning to one of the locations to work on a service project.

Kevin McGowan, building-partnerships coordinator at Barclay, said he has watched the children grow in their relationships.

"At first, they were a little standoffish with each other," he said. "But, ultimately, they realize that they have more in common with each than they thought."

At the science center, it appeared that was the case. Clad in yellow T-shirts bearing the program's name, the youths, in groups of four, answered questions about the exhibits at the center. With booming voices and wide smiles, they appeared to be well on their way to lasting friendships.

"It's really, really fun here with everyone," said Jackie Li, 11, who attends Glenelg.

"I like watching her dress up as an astronaut," said Cearina Webb of Barclay, pointing to classmate Michal Marcus.

Robert David Weeks, a pupil at Glenelg, added, "Because of all the activities, we've learned to work together."

Officials of the science center were pleased.

"When it came time to prepare for this, we knew that we had to not just encourage science, but to get them to share their impressions," said Pete Yancone, director of education at the center. "We accomplished that goal [because] they were cooperating with one another."

Jamie Welebob, school programs instructor at the center, designed a questionnaire for the children to use while they toured the exhibits. She added that she wanted them to be excited about their visit.

"There's a lot of interactive activities here, and my themes were interaction and problem-solving," she said. "It's been a good experience."

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