MAYBE IT was the prayer the team said before the games began. Or perhaps it was all that practice -- two hours a day for the three weeks leading up to the Big Moment.
No, this prayer and practice weren't in preparation for the Olympic Games. Rather, this was a heated academic competition among low-income Baltimore city and county high schoolers Thursday afternoon in the Gilman School auditorium.
The third annual "Scholars Bowl," a competition among students at the five Baltimore sites of the federally funded Upward Bound program, was won by the team based at Gilman but comprising students from Polytechnic Institute and Western High.
"The prayer is what did it," laughed Aesha Minter, 17, a Western High senior and member of the Gilman team as she relaxed at a post-bowl cookout for some 400 students, parents and friends.
Gilman, which is host to Upward Bound students from high schools in Northwest Baltimore (they stay overnight at the College of Notre Dame during a six-week summer session), beat out teams based at Morgan State University, Baltimore City Community College, Catonsville Community College and the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
The students and their supporters packed the Gilman auditorium and sent up ear-splitting cheers for their heroes, selected by fellow students as the brightest in each of the camps.
Diane Drake, who directs Upward Bound at Catonsville Community College, played the Alex Trebek role in the contest, a cross between the individual competition of "Jeopardy" and the team competition of "It's Academic." In the spirit of the season, Drake launched the affair with a hearty "Let the games begin!"
The questions were difficult. The combatants grimaced and perspired. Quick recall is much harder when the championship trophy is on the line. At one point, Natisha Greenway, a 16-year-old Milford Mill Academy student representing the Catonsville camp, pushed her button after hearing only "Name all four " and miraculously called out the four blood types!
In the end, Gilman won because of its superior knowledge of math and science. The winning captain, Poly senior Tavon Williams, 17, paraded the trophy around the Gilman stage as if his team had won all of the Olympic swimming events at once.
Upward Bound is a survivor of the Great Society programs of three decades ago. Designed to prepare low-income and "first-generation" students (those whose parents had no higher education) prepare for college, the program recruits most of its participants in ninth grade and puts them through four years of after-school, weekend and summer activities.
After the students' high school graduations, Upward Bound pays for summer college courses, and 90 percent of the students go on to higher education, according to recent studies.
"You get to be pretty much a family after four years together," said Aesha, the only girl on the Gilman team. She hopes to enroll at Towson State, the University of Maryland College Park or UMBC.
Michael Bryant, director of the Morgan State Upward Bound, said the program has had to fight for its life against budget attacks from the new Republican majority in Congress. A year ago, Bryant said, Upward Bound won another four years, "but after that we don't know."
Said Drake from Catonsville Community College: "This program proves that poor and first-generation kids are just as thrilled with academic achievement as rich kids. They don't all hang out all the time and make trouble."
School decentralization, which Baltimore officials call the "enterprise" plan, isn't the only thing the city has borrowed from Edmonton, Alberta.
On May 20, the city sent a questionnaire -- almost word-for-word a copy of one developed in the Canadian city -- to a random sample of 2,500 parents and students, asking them to rate their schools. Information derived from the anonymous survey, a cover letter said, "will be used for discussion and planning. We can move forward as a school system only if we know how we are serving you."
Melinda Krummerich, one of those who got the questionnaire, was not impressed. That she received it the day it was due back was only the beginning. She found the survey's questions poorly worded, its purpose "incomprehensible."
"The questions are vague and generally unanswerable by a simple yes or no," she said.
Stephen Ruffini, the North Avenue official in charge of tabulating the results, said last week that the job would take another month.
Pub Date: 7/21/96