Students point to positives at school

October 24, 2007|By GREGORY KANE

Four guys get into a fight at Woodlawn High School. One is slashed with some kind of weapon that, well, slashes. Just another reason why some folks call the school not Woodlawn High, but Hoodlawn High, right?

Jamal Holloman is a 15-year-old junior at Woodlawn. He's heard that Hoodlawn High wisecrack before. So has 17-year-old Jermaine Isaac, a Woodlawn senior. But Jermaine has a quick response when people chide him about attending Hoodlawn High.

"Shut up," he tells them.

Jamal and Jermaine talked to me yesterday in the offices of Don Weglein, Woodlawn's principal. Both wore gray shirts with black letters that read "100 Strong Male Role Models," the name of a school club they've joined. Jamal is the business manager. Jermaine is the president.

They were joined by Kwami Williams and Klara Kim. Kwami is a 16-year-old senior who belongs to 100 Strong Male Role Models and Woodlawn's robotics club. Klara, 17, is a senior and the school's student government association president. She's also the only female and the only Asian-American club member.

All four had plenty to say about that "Hoodlawn High" business.

Klara said she constantly runs across people who find it hard to believe she even attends the school.

I asked her why.

"I don't know," she said, slowly and reflectively. "Maybe because I'm not African-American?"

You may have surmised that Klara is chock full of such one-liners. She's at Woodlawn all week, folks.

Klara also has a quick rejoinder for those skeptics who criticize her school, although Jermaine has her beaten by quite a few words.

"I tell them I go to Woodlawn, and it's not that bad," Klara said.

Kwami said he was worried about Woodlawn's reputation for violence when he was an eighth-grader struggling to decide whether he would go to Western Tech or Woodlawn, which had an engineering program that attracted him. He had finally decided on Woodlawn when an incident happened in April 2004 that certainly didn't help dispel any negative impressions about the school.

Tearra High, a 15-year-old student at Woodlawn, had been suspended for fighting. Her mother, Sharod Bailey, went to the school when she received a call that some girls were about to fight Tearra again and that some of them might be armed with either razor blades or knives.

Bailey marched into the school auditorium where an assembly was being held and confronted the girls. One fight broke out, then another. The assembly was about ways to resolve conflicts peacefully. It was a black eye for Woodlawn, but lovers of irony were in seventh heaven.

"I didn't want to come to Woodlawn after that," Kwami said. But once at the school, Kwami found, "everything that I previously thought totally changed."

Kwami joined the school's robotics club, which Weglein said was first in Maryland, reached the national quarterfinals and was in the top 20 nationwide.

"Because of robotics, I've been to places I've never been," Kwami said.

So have Jamal and Jermaine. Members of 100 Strong Male Role Models mentor younger children. The organization has spread across the country. Jamal and Jermaine have visited Chicago, New York and Connecticut.

While all four students praised Woodlawn and said the "Hoodlawn" aspersion didn't really apply, none of them shied away from the fact that there are problems at the school. All were distressed by what Jamal called "gang-related" activity. Or more accurately, a tiny cadre of Woodlawn students who think they're gangbangers, but really aren't.

"They hold their meetings in their backyards," Klara said of them.

Jamal has noticed the written work of some of those so-called "gangbangers" and found it to be quite good. Jermaine has noticed some of these wannabe tough guys comply immediately, when told to go to class or surrender items deemed contraband.

All four think the aspiring gangbangers can still be reached. That's why Jermaine has proposed holding a three-day conference, seminar or symposium for Baltimore and Baltimore County that will address one thing: What can we do about these gangs?

According to Cpl. Mike Hill of the Baltimore County Police Department, those gangs aren't any worse at Woodlawn than at other county schools. Neither is violence. Hill said that fights and weapons violations at Woodlawn decreased from the 2005-2006 school year to the 2006-2007 school year.

"It's an unfair perception," Weglein said of the "Hoodlawn" appellation. "Woodlawn is much like opera: It's better than you think."


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