These eighth-graders learn by teaching

Patterson Academy pupils with special needs get leadership training

May 24, 2004|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

In between all the fun - making sun prints of leaves, digging in the soil and searching for earthworms - there was learning going on.

The second-graders at the Waldorf School in North Baltimore were learning about science and the environment. And their teachers - eighth-graders with special needs at nearby Dr. Roland N. Patterson Senior Academy - were learning how to be leaders.

"I love working with the kids with stuff," said Leviticus Wilburn, 14, at the schools' last hands-on activity Thursday. "Once you get their attention, they understand and they learn from what I'm saying. I think that's fun."

Thursday's lesson, where kids taught kids, wrapped up this year's installment of a three-way partnership among the Waldorf School, a private school; Patterson Academy, a public school, and Irvine Nature Center, a nonprofit resource center that aims to heighten awareness and appreciation of environmental issues.

Since March, workers from the nature center have visited Patterson Academy four times to teach eighth-graders a science lesson. Two days after each visit, the Patterson Academy pupils made the short walk from their school to neighboring Waldorf, and, in turn, taught the second-graders what they had just learned.

Marie Terry-Harris, who has taught special-education children at Patterson Academy for a dozen years, believes her pupils benefit most from the exchange.

"When they come across that street, it's like they're in a different world," Terry-Harris said of her special-needs pupils. "The reputation they have is terrible. So when they come out here, people can't believe it - all I have is nice students trying to teach kids something."

Eighth-grader Tywon Jones, for example, is easily distracted in school, Terry-Harris said. But leading a group of second-graders on a hunt for earthworms last week, Tywon, 14, exhibited the focus and aplomb of a veteran teacher.

"How can you tell the difference between an adult worm and a baby worm?" he asked the second-graders, as they poked in the mud looking for anything pink and wriggly.

A blur of arms waved in his face. Tywon called on Eleanor Garvey, who was bouncing on her tiptoes and nearly hyperventilating.

"The grown-up worm has a ring around his tail and the little worm does not!" she said in one breath.

"Very good!" Tywon praised. "Now does anyone know what the band around the worm is called?"

Silence from the second-graders. Even from Eleanor.

"The band around the worm is called a selec-, a selec-ti-um," Tywon explained. "A selectum."

He meant clitellum, but no matter, Terry-Harris said. The point is that he and his seven classmates stood in front of the second-graders and weren't afraid to try.

The eighth-graders' efforts were greatly appreciated by the fledgling scientists from Waldorf, who found the "big kids" cooler than their regular teachers.

"They're better teachers because they're young," said Tariq Shaheed, 7.

"We're lucky!" agreed Alejandra Paull, also 7.

For their part, the eighth-graders found the energetic, inquisitive Waldorf kids to be cute, but a handful - and ended the program with a newfound respect for Terry-Harris.

"Sometimes we might be hard-headed and don't listen to our teachers," said Leviticus, the Patterson eighth-grader. "Now we finally know how the teachers feel for the students not to listen to them."

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