Gift card is worth $100, the lessons are priceless

December 23, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

With barely three shopping days left until Christmas, the 55 fifth-graders at Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary School got an extra boost for their holiday shopping yesterday: $100 each, courtesy of Eric C. Stewart.

No, Stewart isn't an alumnus of Eutaw-Marshburn. But his mother, Marlene Stewart, taught there for 30 years. After she retired, she volunteered at the school. About four years ago, Eric Stewart's mom told him about some things the school needed: a microwave oven for the teachers' lounge; a refrigerator; a drum set; copying machines; assorted paper products.

"The principal expected me to write a check for $200," Eric Stewart said yesterday. "Instead she got a truck full of $10,000 worth of supplies."

That's how Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary came to be adopted by Eric C. Stewart, owner and chief executive officer of eMortgage Solutions in Pikesville. The next year, the company donated $100 to the school for every touchdown the Baltimore Ravens scored. (That was a risky proposition, given that until recently, the term "Ravens offense" was almost an oxymoron, and the team had what could best be described as an adversarial relationship with the end zone. Eutaw-Marshburn staffers and students might have ended up paying Eric Stewart money.)

Last year, Stewart gave a financial seminar to Eutaw-Marshburn's fifth-graders, teaching them about mortgages, how houses appreciate and depreciate in value, what equity in a house is and the link between maintaining good, stable homes and neighborhoods to high property values. At the end of the seminar, Stewart packed the students on a bus for a visit to his Pikesville office, where he gave some of them a chance to sit in his chair and give orders to staff members.

Stewart gave a condensed version of that lesson yesterday, but he took care of first things first: having Jamal Jones read his essay about the importance of education. Jamal had read the same essay the day before on The Homeowner's Power Hour, a radio show that Stewart hosts on WOLB.

It is at this point in the column where you're supposed to read Jamal's pithy comments about education, but his classmate Markia Corbin simply wasn't having it. She approached Stewart as he was about to leave and assured him that her essay was just as good. Stewart promised to have her on the show. Admiring the kid's chutzpah, I told her I'd like to take a look at it.

So here is Markia Corbin's, not Jamal Jones', essay on the importance of education.

"I want to get my education so I can go to the next grade. When I grow up I want to help people do math and reading while I'm earning my degree. Sometimes I can even help my sisters. I will ignore the negative people. I want to be a doctor because I want to help the homeless and make sure kids are all right with their bodies. I want to go to college so I can get a job and be a good teacher. I want to work so when my mom gets old I can help take care of her. I'm going to be the best daughter my mom ever had by getting my education."

Krystal Cornish, who teaches both Jamal and Markia, spoke about the girl's pluck and persistence.

"She was determined somebody was going to hear that essay," Cornish said.

While Markia showed the most persistence, Jamal showed the most savvy about home ownership and property values. During the mini-seminar, Jamal correctly concluded that a $100,000 home in a community where houses sell for $120,000 has gained $20,000 in value.

This was all part of Stewart's strategy: link the rewards to the learning experience. Give the youngsters gifts of $100 each as a Christmas present, but give them an easy-to-understand lesson about the importance of home ownership and property values first.

Stewart set three conditions for students to receive their $100, which came in the form of a credit card. First, they had to agree to spend part of it on a gift for someone else. Second, they had to agree to attend school, adhere to Eutaw-Marshburn's dress code, and complete all their homework and classwork assignments.

"There's one more responsibility," Stewart said before he gave the students the third condition. "I'd like you to take a small portion of the $100 and save it." (Stewart told the students they could get cash for the credit cards at an automated teller machine. "With your parents," he stressed.)

You have to tip your hat to anyone willing to use that dreaded r-word - responsibility - these days. And you have to tip your hat to a former Baltimore schoolkid who starts a business and then adopts a city school. It's something Stewart doesn't feel businesses do enough.

"I think it's important," Stewart said, " that the corporate world get its hands from under its butt and get involved."

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