Schools honor 7 as `unsung heroes'

5 people, 2 groups named `Friends of Education'

Howard County

April 16, 2004|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Board of Education recognized seven "Friends of Education" during its meeting last night, honoring their extraordinary contributions to the school system -- which included donating electric guitars, participating in tutoring programs and volunteering thousands of hours.

"Aren't they like unsung heroes?" said board member Sandra H. French, who sat on the five-member committee that chose the winners from 14 nominees. "We are in their debt."

Five individuals and two organizations received the designation:

Vivian Bailey, a Columbia resident who acts as "grandmother in residence" at Running Brook Elementary, but also raises funds for supplemental materials, encourages business partnerships, reads to children and collects clothing for needy families.

"Mrs. Bailey treats us like we are her children," Running Brook pupil Lindsey Kellner wrote in a letter supporting Bailey's nomination.

Nesbitt Brown, a retired biochemist who lives in Columbia and has donated his time to Howard High School for nearly nine years, mentoring science students and their teachers and providing encouragement through the motto: "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to be a rocket scientist."

Bruce Riegel, a gifted education specialist at Howard High, said there is no way to sum up Brown's contribution because "he's affected so many students in such a profound way" by teaching them to love a subject they never thought they could.

Julie Peredo, a Mexican immigrant who learned English after moving to Laurel and now helps other parents struggling to do the same by acting as the unofficial liaison between Laurel Woods Elementary and its Hispanic population. She has set up multicultural events, translated newsletters, given presentations and founded the "Muffins for Moms" program, which meets monthly to discuss education issues and to nosh.

"Her warm smile, her ability to make friends easily and her advocacy makes all of us who know her that much better for the experience," John Shortt, who manages a grant for after-school programs, wrote in a letter suggesting Peredo for the award.

Diana Smith, a Jessup mom who created a math flash card program at Bollman Bridge Elementary School six years ago that has helped 85 children master basic skills and improve their performance on assessment tests.

"Diana is a hardworking, self-starter who invariably understands exactly what needs to be done to help our students," Bollman Bridge media specialist Sandy Sneeringer wrote in her letter of support for Smith. "She saw a need and went to work."

Paul Reed Smith, an artisan who has made guitars used by Carlos Santana and the band Creed, has been a fixture at Long Reach High School, giving motivational speeches during career classes that emphasize the importance of believing in yourself. He also donated an electric guitar to every high school in Howard County, and 208 of them statewide.

In nominating Smith, who lives in Arnold, Long Reach teacher Foster Driver wrote: "[Smith] is there for our kids. He is there for our staff. Our school has benefited in countless ways from this relationship."

Individual Differences in Learning Inc. (formerly Gifted Different Learners Association), a 2-year-old group that links Howard special education with its Gifted and Talented program and is an advocate for students who fall into both categories. The organization's members have donated thousands of volunteer hours, provided a professional development workshop for teachers, and trained teams at 40 schools to identify gifted students who have learning disabilities.

Howard County Master Gardeners, a section of the Maryland Cooperative Extension, whose members share their love and knowledge of horticulture in county communities. In 1998, the group joined with the school system to offer fifth-graders the opportunity to study and protect the Chesapeake Bay's ecosystem. Since then, more than 10,000 pupils from 27 schools have planted nearly 15 acres of stream buffer in western Howard.

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