Eighth-graders plant flowers, sow seeds of change

Howard, Baltimore students have worked together for 3 years, learning social responsibility as a team

Education Beat


The eighth-graders from Glenelg Country School arrived at the Rideout Heath Apartment Complex on Friday armed with potted plants, mallets, bags of soil and youthful energy.

They gathered around Glenelg Country teacher and community service coordinator David Weeks as he issued instructions. He divided the pupils into three categories of workers. Planters would use lumber to set up boxes and fill them with plants, he said. Framers were in charge of placing lumber along the perimeter of the space where the playground would be constructed. And drivers would pound stakes into the wood, so it would stay in place.

As the pupils got to work, the rest of the crew arrived: another group of eighth-graders, these from the Barclay School, a public elementary and middle school in Baltimore.

Thirteen pairs of pupils - each pair made up of one pupil from each of the two schools - have been working together on social service projects for three years, starting when they were in sixth grade. Each pair has been together since the beginning of the program.

"I want you to find your partner and work with your partner," Weeks told the new arrivals.

The collaboration between the two schools, called Maryland Youth Partners in Charge, is run by Weeks and Kevin McGowan, his counterpart in Baltimore. "He called in 2001 with his vision," McGowan said of Weeks.

Now, pupils from the two schools get together about once a month for social service projects, both in Howard County and in Baltimore. "We're becoming change agents in each neighborhood," McGowan said. The partnership is planning to create a mural at the Village Learning Place in Charles Village in the spring, he said.

Each year, a different theme is explored, Weeks said. When the kids were in sixth grade, the focus was on relationship-building. Last year, the theme was homelessness. And this year, the emphasis has been placed on resourcefulness and social action.

Weeks approached Carol MacPhee, executive director of the Columbia Housing Corp., looking for project ideas, and she suggested a Rideout Heath playground, Weeks said. "We were discussing possible places that could use a playground," he said.

The pupils spent Friday afternoon landscaping the property and preparing it for the equipment, which was expected to arrive in about three weeks. The playground equipment, including climbing structures, slides and rideable toy animals on springs, was sponsored by the Columbia Housing Corporation, which will also install it, Weeks said.

The equipment will feature the school colors of Barclay - yellow and blue - and Glenelg Country - green and white.

The housing corporation also supplied several workers who were cutting wood and helping with the landscaping Friday, as well as workers from local companies Potts Construction and Howard Toppers and Chopper, a maintenance and landscaping firm. The playground equipment is from Playground Specialists Inc., and the landscaping materials are from the River Hill Garden Center.

The pupils all wore black T-shirts that read: Maryland Youth Partners in Charge.

Stacy Hand, 13, an eighth-grader at Glenelg Country, said she enjoyed being involved with MYPIC because "it's fun. It makes you feel good because you're helping people."

And Sharneasha Street, an eighth-grader with Barclay, said she signed up for the program because she felt she could learn a lot over the course of three years. "It's been fun," she added.

The same pupils have been with MYPIC since the beginning, but next year a new crop of sixth-graders will begin, Weeks and McGowan said.

As the formerly empty courtyard was transformed amid the scraping whine of wood being sawed and the hammering of mallets, several residents of the 83-unit apartment complex stopped by to watch.

"I'm so happy about this playground," said Hazida Hosein, who said she has been living at Rideout Heath since 1981. "They need for the kids to have somewhere to play." Hosein remembers when her kids played on a playground at the same site, which was torn down several years ago. Now, her grandchildren, ages 11 and 2, will have a playground too, she said.

"I'm very happy about it," said Quinnetta Boone, the property manager. "It gives the kids something to do, somewhere to go. Especially the little kids."

And Ilana Johnson, a resident of Rideout Heath for 12 years and the mother of 9-month-old Savion Chester, said she is thrilled about the playground. She said kids, including her brother's 2-year-old son, who visits often, have no place nearby to play.

"We've been missing a playground around here for a long time," she said.

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