Meet 3 angels in public schools Volunteers: Gail Cuffie, Ida Perry and Marlon Tilghman give the best kind of gifts to the education system. They donate their talents and time.


IN THE SPIRIT of the season and of the day, Education Beat offers brief profiles of three Baltimoreans who give of themselves as volunteers in public schools.

One of them can be described as a secular evangelist. The second is a longtime -- and we mean longtime -- volunteer. The third is a mentor and role model in the inner city. The three are soldiers in an army of people who believe unfashionably that you don't have to be paid to bring goodwill to humankind.

Gail Cuffie calls herself the "coordinator" of a program called Aiming for Success. Actually, she is the program. She started it after working as a paralegal in the state's attorney's office in the city and seeing "enough drugs and teen-age crime to last a lifetime."

Each week, Cuffie, 40, travels to John Eager Howard Elementary School and Lombard Middle School in downtown Baltimore, where she leads children in discussions and foot-stomping cheers designed to build their morale and encourage them to stay in school and stay away from drugs and crime.

Cuffie's sessions look and sound like high school pep rallies. The students stomp, clap and chant: "When I get older I'll reach my dreams/ I'll stay in school no matter how hard it seems!"

Cuffie draws on her years in the prosecutor's office for stories of what can happen to youngsters who "lose faith in themselves." While she doesn't take a religious message into the public schools, she sees her mission as a religious one and operates another one-woman program, Project-There's-Hope, through her East Baltimore church.

"Some adults are afraid to go where our kids are sent every day," says Cuffie, the mother of two children in city public schools. "I feel I'm not only carrying an academic burden but a spiritual burden at [John Eager Howard] and Lombard."

Ida Perry started working around Baltimore Highlands Elementary School 40 years ago, when she was 33. A decade later she went full time, and she's been at it every school day from 6 to 3 -- for 30 years!

"I usually come in and fix coffee for the teachers," she says. "Then I might go to the library or media center, wherever they need me. Teachers can usually use another pair of hands."

Perry has seen two generations of students, including three children of her own, go through the south Baltimore County school. "I've also seen quite a few teachers and principals. Quite a few have passed away," she said.

Last year, the school gave Perry the title "Honorary Staff Member."

If Perry had been paid $10 an hour, she'd be entitled to more than $400,000.

"I'd be rich," she says, "but I've never wanted to be paid. I do it for the love of the children."

Marlon Tilghman will be among 85 members of Black Professional Men Inc. to gather at the Maryland Science Center on New Year's Eve for dinner, dancing and planning another year of mentoring in Baltimore schools.

Every other Friday, Tilghman, a 31-year-old Poly graduate, ventures to Lombard Middle School, where he meets with a group of 13 students and tries to demonstrate by word and deed that Baltimore African-American men can and do succeed.

An architect for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tilghman is chairman of the Youth Development Committee of the Black Professional group, formed four years ago.

Trained at the acclaimed Baltimore Mentoring Institute, he says he's "seen a lot of growth with these kids. There's a lot of reward in seeing kids develop."

zTC One of the challenges of his volunteer work, Tilghman says, is building self-esteem among kids with great intellectual potential. The bad students are often the ones with the most street smarts and the greatest self-esteem, not the least," he says, "and the kids with intellect are the ones who most need a boost."

Three state universities send out nearly 7,300 grads

While most of us were busy with Christmas activities last weekend, almost 7,300 people graduated from three of the state's largest universities.

Kermit the Frog and Elmo of "Sesame Street" were guests Friday at the University of Maryland College Park midyear commencement. More than 5,000 graduated.

The same day, the University of Maryland Baltimore County held its first midyear ceremony for 804 graduates, while Towson State University gave out 1,471 degrees Sunday afternoon.

The UMBC affair was as untraditional as most other events at the Catonsville campus in this year of the school's 30th birthday. No marching across the University Center ballroom stage. No diplomas handed out.

Instead, the graduates heard brief remarks from three of their peers and from President Freeman A. Hrabowski. Their names were read. Then they turned en masse and thanked their parents and significant others. Hundreds of balloons floated down from the ceiling.

As more college students "stop out" to work, travel or raise families, fewer are earning degrees in four lock-step academic years.

Midyear commencements are bound to become common.

Which raises a question: Is this the Class of '96.5?

Pub Date: 12/25/96

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