School honored for effort to bolster community ties


With $18,000 in state funds and more than 20 pairs of volunteer hands, Running Brook Elementary School spent a year strengthening the ties between students, families and members of the community.

The west Columbia elementary school, which has a sizable number of students of Asian and Hispanic ancestry, sponsored cultural fashion shows for children, workshops on homework, sign language classes and other projects.

A few weeks ago, Running Brook was rewarded for its efforts when its FACTS program was named the Most Outstanding Program of the Year by National Association of Counties.

"We knew we had made a lot of impact on the community just from talking to parents and teachers who said that programs like the homework workshops or the bilingual police officer who spoke to Spanish-speaking families about safety were helpful," said the program's coordinator, Nancy Berla. "But when someone else recognizes your efforts and sees the hard work, it pays offs and really feels good."

The award will be presented to County Executive Charles I. Ecker or to an aide at the group's annual conference in Atlanta in July.

The FACTS program, in conjunction with the county's Department of Parks and Recreation, was designed to provide activities to improve student academic achievement by increasing the interaction between families, students and teachers, Ms. Berla said.

A grant from the School Community Center Project of the Maryland Department of Education helped Ms. Berla start the program. It concentrates its activities on the ethnically diverse community.

This summer, FACTS will offer a 20-hour-a-week academic and recreational program at Running Brook for children in kindergarten through third grade, said Marybeth Dugan-Hoelk, an area coordinator for the county's Department of Parks and Recreation. A tutoring session on grammar will be provided for children who do not speak English as their native language.

During the school year, FACTS provides sessions to help elementary school children and their parents with homework assignments, and to help them learn Spanish, sign language or basketry.

About 20 children participated in two play groups the program offered at Running Brook and at the county police satellite office in Rideout Heath in the Village of Harper's Choice.

Six Family Fun Nights gave parents and their children a chance to talk with guidance counselors about topics such as the dangers of drugs.

In the fall, FACTS plans to hold a "Homework Night" once a week at the school. Two teachers will answer questions on assignments and help children and their parents plan and develop ideas for new class projects.

"Any parent, whether they are Spanish-speaking, poor or wealthy, can benefit from being involved with their child, because it helps them understand what's going on in the classrooms and in the school system," Ms. Berla said.

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