Alpha Achievers to gather in celebration of 10 years of encouraging excellence

EDUCATION NOTEBOOK

January 07, 2007|By John-John Williams IV

After 10 years of encouraging academic excellence among ethnic minority male high school students at Oakland Mills, the Alpha Achievers will celebrate Jan. 14 and take a bow.

The group -- made up of students with at least a 3.0 grade point average -- will celebrate from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the Oakland Mills High School cafeteria. Alumni and current members will get a chance to interact and reminisce. The event costs $10.

"It will be a little bit of history," said Vincent James, a guidance counselor at Oakland Mills High who volunteered to be the adviser for the group.

The program has greatly changed the academic climate at Oakland Mills, according to James.

"Now students are taking honors, AP [Advanced Placement] and gifted-and-talented courses," James said. "Now, students are not isolated. There are more students challenging themselves."

Oakland Mills Principal Frank Eastham also has noticed a change.

"It took some time to change the mindset that it wasn't cool to do well in school," said Eastham, who was an assistant principal at Oakland Mills when the program began. "Now we have men of color striving to get into the Alpha Achievers. It has created a culture that has celebrated academic achievement in school."

In addition to the grade point average requirement, prospective members must submit two letters of recommendation and sign an honor code.

Besides community service, the group holds a mix of social events and fundraisers. The annual video game tournament regularly attracts numerous participants, and the group's annual calendar -- in which members pose in tuxedos -- has become a tradition at Oakland Mills. Proceeds pay for college scholarships, field trips and operating costs.

The program started at Oakland Mills in 1997 by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. -- a historically black organization -- with fewer than 20 members. Since then, more than 100 members at the Columbia school have graduated. Originally founded for African-American males, the program now includes males of all ethnic minority groups.

A second county chapter was started at Long Reach High three years ago, and chapters were added in the fall at Reservoir and Wilde Lake high schools. Hammond High has expressed interest in starting a chapter.

After completion of high school, many Alpha Achievers have gone on to receive graduate degrees and can be found in career fields ranging from law to public relations, according to James, who volunteered as an adviser after hearing members of the fraternity speak to a group of students about morals and sexual responsibility.

"We weren't sure how much of an impact we would be able to make." said Eastham. "It has had a tremendous impact on the school."

Honor roll standards

In the past, when it came to high school honor roll standards, Howard County schools were not on the same page.

But after meetings between administrators and parents and a survey of students, a uniform set of standards has been established for all high schools.

Next school year, students with a grade point average ranging from 3.0 to 3.39 will be placed on the silver honor roll; students whose average falls between 3.4 and 3.99 will earn a spot on the gold honor roll, and 4.0 students will be named to the principal's honor roll.

The unified standards will alleviate confusion and problems that transfer students have faced, said Linda Wise, an assistant superintendent for school administration.

The changes are the result of a parent who complained to the school system last year. Wise said the system also was exploring options for honor roll standardization.

Wise said the system is looking into plans to reward students who have demonstrated significant grade point average improvement.

For the changes to be made, the school system will launch a campaign so that all students are aware of the changes.

"It's a big concern to the students -- their honor rolls," Wise said.

Known abroad

Glenelg Country School's reputation has stretched to the Middle East.

This week, educators from the Petroleum Institute -- a regional university in the United Arab Emirates -- who want to base two new schools in Abu Dhabi on the private Howard County school, will visit with staff members and students. The visitors will spend three days studying Glenelg's physical structure, curriculum and recruitment initiatives.

"I was extremely flattered and honored," said Headmaster Ryland Chapman. "I knew we have a great program, our students do well in colleges and universities. They looked at other schools, but they knew the school and the quality of the program. My hope is that we can be of service to them."

The Petroleum Institute wants to create two single-sex high schools to prepare students for the rigors of local and American universities and for careers in science and technology.

Glenelg Country was suggested as a prototype by Michael Ohadi, the chief academic officer for the Petroleum Institute. Ohadi's son attended Glenelg Country School while his family lived in the United States.

Chapman and two other administrators visited Abu Dhabi last month to meet with educators at the Petroleum Institute. Chapman provided an overview of the school's operations, curriculum, procedures, and policies.

He hopes to form a relationship with the two new schools, once each is built.

"It's exciting for our school," Chapman said. "It is wonderful to hear the possibility of an ongoing international relationship. We believe we have something to offer. If they want an American model, we think this is a good one."

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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