On behalf of the school system, and in particular the Black Student Achievement Program and the Office of Human Relations, I must take issue on several fronts with Kevin Thomas' "Comment" columns of June 20 and July 11.
It is difficult to imagine what possible purpose Mr. Thomas hopes serve by attempting to pit one school system program against another. In our efforts as educators to ensure academic success for all students there are no "second-tier programs." Such a systemic problem as underachievement can only be addressed systemically and BSAP has been but one resource directed at this issue. The fact that discrepancies still remain between the achievement levels of African-American students and other student populations is an indictment of us all.
Secondly, the MASSI model (Motivation, Assessment, Support, Structure, Instruction) developed by the school's Human Relations Office is designed to serve as a framework in which to present a coordinated approach to delivering instruction. The techniques and approaches suggested in the model are not new but are strategies which have been tested and promoted in education circles for years.
Since its inception, BSAP has been instrumental in training teachers in effective instructional strategies designed to reach and teach all children. In fact, some of the materials addressing classroom instruction, climate variables, learning styles, etc., which will be used in the MASSI framework, come directly from the BSAP teacher training model.
Finally, although the Helping Hands Program is an outgrowth of the BSAP, the Helping Hands Summer Program is not a BSAP initiative. The program is operated by the Helping Hands Foundation, an independent non-profit organization which has a partnership with the school system. BSAP staff do serve as consultants in coordinating curriculum and providing technical assistance to Helping Hands. . . .
While we appreciate and welcome your efforts to hold the school system accountable for the manner in which we address the needs of all students, please understand that if we are to be successful in improving our ability to appropriately educate African-American students, it will not be the result of any one program but because of our combined efforts. It is as a system that we accept this responsibility.
The writer is public information officer for the Howard County school system.
It is unfortunate that Kevin Thomas did not understand that the summer camp operated by the Helping Hands enrichment and Leadership Foundation, Inc. is not a part of the BSAP program. Although Helping Hands has a partnership with the Howard County school system, the summer camp has always been paid for by parents who requested a summer experience as an extension of the Saturday program that is still a BSAP initiative.
The private non-profit foundation was formed in response to the lack of school system funds for the summer camp. Monies collected for summer camp tuition are used to pay teacher salaries. Donations from individuals and community organizations provide half-price scholarships for students whose parents do not have funds to pay full tuition. The Parent Advisory Council of the BSAP provides a full scholarship to the summer camp in the name of an outstanding senior from the current graduating classes from Howard County high schools.
Recognizing that some parents cannot afford even half-priced tuition to the Helping Hands summer camp, the BSAP staff sought a means to provide a free experience for students in low-income housing. Again, due to the scarcity of funds, the numbers of students had to be limited but students in the Stevens Forest Apartments who attend Talbott Springs Elementary School will have a summer camp experience free of charge. It is envisioned that this project can be duplicated to other low-income housing sites in the future. The support and goodwill of the community in partnership with the school system will facilitate the process. . . .
The writer is vice president for legislative issues of the Black Student Achievement Program's executive committee.
As president of the parent advisory council for the Black Student Achievement Program, I am deeply concerned by the statements made by Kevin Thomas regarding the program. I shudder to think what the plight of African-American students would have been without BSAP. . . .
Since the spring of 1988 when the program was piloted in one school at the elementary, middle and high school levels, gains have been made on several fronts. The numbers of African-American students who have scored at or above grade level have increased, grade point averages are higher, the numbers of African-American students assigned to gifted and talented programs have increased and the numbers of African-American students assigned to special education classes have declined. BSAP initiatives have provided in-service staff development activities for teachers, outreach programs for parents, retreats, workshops and guest speakers for students.
The BSAP has not given short shrift to what goes on in the classroom. Unfortunately, without the superintendent's mandate, participation by school staff in the BSAP initiatives was viewed to be voluntary with many staff members and administrators opting not to be involved with BSAP initiatives even in designated BSAP schools. This non-involvement caused the program to have less of an impact on the day-to-day activities in individual classrooms. . . .
The refocusing of the BSAP program last January was a welcomed development. For the first time, all school personnel are being required by the superintendent to focus on the gap between the academic achievement of African-American students and others. What actually occurs in the classroom finally got some powerful support. . . .
We have a unique opportunity to accomplish the goal of eliminating the disparities that presently exist in academic achievement. We ask the media to support us in this effort.