Teaching kids, strengthening community

Towson U. students are tutors in Cherry Hill


The second-graders in a summer enrichment class at Dr. Carter G. Woodson Elementary/Middle are drawn to 17-year-old Alleah Patrick. The incoming Towson University freshman wipes away their tears when they argue and tries to keep them focused on their schoolwork.

Kasia Eubanks, 7, says having Patrick in class is "really, really fun because when we don't know our math words, she [tells] us."

Patrick is one of 22 Towson students dispatched to public schools in Cherry Hill this summer, and one of about 75 expected to tutor there when the academic year begins. She is a small part in a burgeoning experiment pairing the university, city government, the school system and neighborhood groups in an attempt to revitalize Cherry Hill, and to bring more and better-prepared teachers to Baltimore's schools.

Patrick graduated from City College this spring and dreams of becoming a doctor, but she's found tutoring to be so rewarding, she's now contemplating a career as a teacher. And that's exactly the point of the program that placed her there.

A new partnership, which is to be formally launched at a community summit this month, will bring student teachers and tutors to the classrooms of Cherry Hill. It will enable teachers to take graduate-level courses at their own schools or others nearby. It will provide social services not only for schoolchildren but also for their families and neighbors.

"It's not just a school concept but a neighborhood concept," said Towson's president, Robert L. Caret, who is soliciting departments throughout his university to get involved in the project, led by its College of Education.

Around the region, Towson is one of a handful of universities stepping up efforts to improve Baltimore schools. Besides its work in Cherry Hill, Towson has agreed to manage the low-performing Morrell Park Elementary/Middle School. Coppin State University is running two city charter schools and has expressed interest in overseeing struggling Frederick Douglass High School.

The Baltimore school system is looking to the universities to help raise test scores and meet a provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act requiring all classroom teachers to be "highly qualified," or certified with subject-area expertise. Many schools are far from full compliance.

At Dr. Carter G. Woodson Elementary/Middle, for example, just 25 percent of classes were taught by highly qualified teachers as of 2005. In the coming school year, though, Towson will offer graduate classes on site at Woodson that teachers need to take to earn highly qualified status.

A major focus is on creating such a "professional development center" at each of Cherry Hill's five public schools. Every center is to have a theme, such as reading or math, and will also offer services to families. Teachers and families can use the resources at all five schools in their community, which are within walking distance of each other.

For Towson, administrators hope for short-term and long-term benefits from the Cherry Hill partnership.

In the short term, the university - which traditionally has sent most of its education students to do their internships in the suburbs - is striving to do a better job of preparing teachers to work in an urban environment. It plans to send about 70 student-teachers, about 10 percent of the 700 interning in metro-area schools at any given time, to Cherry Hill.

In the long term, the hope is to produce a pipeline of well-prepared high school students from Cherry Hill to attend Towson's College of Education and go on to teach in their hometown.

Another potential source of urban teachers is tutors like Patrick, many of whom are not education majors but have jobs through the university's work-study program. Many of the tutors this summer are recent graduates of Baltimore public schools.

The impetus for the partnership started nearly two years ago, shortly after Raymond Lorion became dean of Towson's College of Education. In hiring Lorion, said Caret, the university president, he was looking for someone who would increase the college's involvement in city schools, which had been negligible.

Soon after Lorion started, officials from the University System of Maryland asked him to work with a program at Southside Academy, the high school in Cherry Hill, designed to steer students toward careers in teaching.

Lorion replied that he didn't want to run a program for students who are academically unprepared. If Towson was going to help Southside, it needed to help the elementary and middle schools that feed into it, too.

Cherry Hill's five schools have a combined enrollment of 1,868 - "big enough to matter and small enough to manage," Lorion says. In addition to Southside, four schools serve prekindergarten through eighth grade: Cherry Hill, Arundel, Patapsco and Carter G. Woodson.

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