Students leading students

High schoolers help younger children, serve as role models

February 11, 2007|By SUSAN GVOZDAS | SUSAN GVOZDAS,Special to The Sun

Alex Wachter was trying to conjure words for an ode to the Super Bowl.

The 17-year-old could have been home getting a head start on his homework or working an after-school job. Instead, he was in the computer lab at Tyler Heights Elementary School with fifth-grader Enner Canales trying to finish the youngster's poem, "The Super Bowl is Cool."

"The Redskins are to the ground. The Ravens are to the heavens," Enner said, reading his typed words aloud.

"That doesn't make sense," Wachter said as he smiled and looked over Enner's shoulder at the computer screen.

A few minutes later, they settled on an ending: "Whether you like them or not, the Ravens are hot!" Enner read aloud. They grinned broadly at each other.

Wachter and a handful of other juniors and seniors from Annapolis Area Christian School come to Tyler on Mondays to help with the after-school program as part of a partnership between the schools that blossomed last summer.

Annapolis Christian students have held a uniform drive for Tyler, helped translate for Spanish-speaking parents at back-to-school night in September and assisted with a movie night event in December.

The partnership provides Tyler children with role models and helps Annapolis Christian students fulfill their service hours and practice their Spanish skills, said Tina McKnight, Tyler's principal.

Because the Annapolis Christian students are close in age and are accessible they might have more influence on the children than a celebrity or top athlete would, she said.

"I think that that kind of a role model is an easier connection for kids to make," McKnight said.

The prefect board - the equivalent of student government - at Annapolis Christian chose to adopt Tyler because many Tyler students come from low-income families, said Georgia Shockley, the faculty adviser.

In addition, Tyler has a growing number of bilingual students. At least 40 of the 120 students in the after-school program are native Spanish speakers who need extra language instruction, said Lynn Grap, the program's coordinator.

Shockley said it isn't difficult to recruit volunteers.

"Our kids ask to go," she said. "If anything, we have too many."

In September and October, Annapolis Christian students collected navy blue polo shirts, white oxfords and khaki pants from their elementary school days to donate to Tyler, which adopted a uniform policy this year.

In December, students volunteered to help at Tyler's movie night, which included pizza and Akeelah and the Bee, a movie about a girl competing in a spelling contest.

The once-a-week mentoring project began in November.

Tyler students spend the first hour of the after-schools program practicing computer skills and receiving lessons in math, science or reading. Then the students can get help with homework or hold club meetings.

Last week, Annapolis Christian students added another option, swing dancing.

Inspired by the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom, Amber Spry, head prefect at Annapolis Christian, thought the fifth-graders would enjoy learning dance steps.

The movie chronicles a New York City ballroom dance program that pits elementary schools against each other in a competition. The children in the movie are reluctant at first but learn poise and confidence.

Spry, 17, of Severn hopes the dance lessons will do the same for the Tyler students. The students will show off their skills at the school talent show May 15.

Several of the prefects had an interest in swing dancing and had taken lessons on their own.

"We just decided it would be a really great outlet to use our gifts for members of the community," Spry said.

In their first lesson, Spry instructed the boys and girls to line up and face each other. Then she and her classmates stood in between, slowly showing students in each line their moves.

At first, boys and girls followed their instructors closely. After the music started, it didn't take long for the boys to start giggling and horsing around.

Sensing chaos, the Annapolis Christian students gave the students a quick demonstration of what they would be learning. One boy swung his partner through his legs. Another girl fell backward into the arms of her partner, who swung her around.

The fifth-graders snapped back to attention.

"I think they're impressed," McKnight said, watching from the bleachers.

Sarah Berkey, 17, a senior from Crownsville and one of the prefects who helped set up the partnership, said she gets a lot out of working with the Tyler students.

"I think it's really special to be able to interact with the kids and realize there's so much you can do," she said. "You're always a role model to someone."

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