Learning center reprieved


On the verge of expulsion from Glen Burnie Senior High School, Scott Pogar was ready to start flipping hamburgers or selling drugs. Jaded and haggard, the eighth-grader was sent to Annapolis and a school of last resort.

The place where he landed, the Adams Park Learning Center, helped him find a love of physics and a spot on the honor roll. The troubled teen-ager got a second chance, and last week, so did his school.

"We thought it was pretty much a done deal that we would have to move," said learning center Principal James I. Lyons. "Obviously, we were relieved to hear that we could stay here."

The Anne Arundel County council voted last week to cut the first installment in a $4.3 million plan to convert the center for wayward youths into an elementary school for the Clay Street neighborhood.

That decision stirred ire in the community, which has tried to reopen the former elementary school, built in 1957 but closed in 1972 as part of a federal desegregation push.

Residents remember potato sack races, soccer games and bake sales at the school, which is in a neighborhood that has become one of the city's heaviest drug-trafficking areas. Some residents say that if the school is reopened, community revitalization might follow.

The current occupants are not eager to relocate. Some school officials contend that the learning center might not be as successful if it was moved from its 10-acre site, which offers views of College Creek and the State House.

"This school's location is very critical," said Ken Lawson, associate superintendent for instruction and student services for the county Board of Education. "It is very isolated and serene there. It's a good environment for these kids who are so easily distracted."

Adams Park is an ideal building because it looks like a school, not a prison or a warehouse, said Huntley Cross, a local school administrator who helped establish the learning center in the early 1970s.

"Parents would sometimes be angry that their children were going there, but when they drove up and saw the flagpole and the red-brick building, they were comforted," said Mr. Cross, the learning center's principal for 14 years and now the county's special assistant for student discipline.

The learning center is the last stop before expulsion. It is the only alternative school program of its kind in the county.

Students ages 12 to 15 stay for about a year, and 30 percent to 40 percent graduate from high school. The others either quit school or are expelled.

Teachers evaluate each student every 15 minutes and send those who repeatedly misbehave to a quiet classroom dubbed "the back room." The students are not given lockers, are forbidden to wander around and are allowed only 10 minutes eating lunch.

The layout of the school helped Mr. Cross establish rules of discipline: separate students in small classrooms and leave the most unruly in a cordoned-off area. The 102 students are divided among 20 classrooms, with the newest isolated on the bottom floor.

Students critique their own behavior as a way of learning responsibility and improving self-esteem. If they curse, make noise, wander into unauthorized areas or "show disrespect," they must offer written explanations and the reason they deserve to be let back into class.

The future of Adams Park is uncertain. Community activists remain committed to changing the building back to an elementary school, this time with a computer laboratory and a full-service cafeteria. Until last week, momentum appeared to be on their side.

The elementary school project received endorsements from the Board of Education and conditional support from County Executive John G. Gary. The County Council was supposed to deliver the prize last week -- the first installment of $168,000.

But the council voted against the project, 6-1, partly because there were no plans to relocate the center.

"That adds to the puzzle and the problem," said Chairwoman Diane R. Evans, who cast the lone vote for the funding.

Because Clay Street's children are bused to other elementary schools, the community suffers, she said. "The proposal for reinvigorating the school might be a key ingredient to pulling the community together," said Ms. Evans, an Arnold Republican.

Meanwhile, the students who attended the learning center say the campus has helped them make a break with their past.

"I was going nowhere," said Scott Pogar, 15, who skipped classes and fought regularly. "I used to say, 'I'm going to be a drug dealer.' School was a joke to me. I didn't even care, man, I used to get such bad grades. I never passed anything."

After spending a year at the learning center, he will return to high school as a junior next fall. He plans to try out for the football team and work toward academic scholarships for college.

"Right here, you're isolated," Scott said. "Everybody's in the same bucket with you. . . . This is your second chance."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad