In the moments before he stepped into the multipurpose room at Gwynns Falls Elementary School, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke offered an apology for the shiny red robe he would be wearing for the next hour.
"This is not a symbol of what I consider to be participatory democracy," Schmoke said, though students at the school wanted him to wear it longer. The mayor had received a promotion, boosted to king status for a role in a production of "Sleeping Beauty" at the school yesterday.
The role of King Stefan, Schmoke's eighth appearance in Crestar Bank's Reach for a Star reading program, didn't provide for much speaking after the first two minutes of the play.
However, the role provided a dramatic outlet for Schmoke, who said he visits schools about once a month but reserves performances in plays such as "Mother Goose," "Pocahontas" and "Sleeping Beauty" for Gwynns Falls Elementary, where he went to school.
"I do one skit a year and it's here," Schmoke said. "It's always fun to come back to help and tell the children that I got my start here."
Some of the children's parents, such as Neville Brown, were impressed by Schmoke's appearance.
"This promotes community service and involvement," said Brown, 37, whose fourth-grade daughter, Nashawnda, performed in the play. "This makes us feel that he's interested in what goes on in the neighborhood."
Each year the bank puts on a play, then sends its employees to Gwynns Falls every two weeks to read a book. Employees distribute copies of the book to pupils.
After the play, Schmoke and Crestar President Scott Wilfong gave copies of "Sleeping Beauty" to the children.
"These are wonderful stories and we want to encourage you to read these stories," Principal Bessie Barco told students in the audience. "I hope that you will read more stories and tell your parents about them."
Constance Fenwick, a reading specialist at the school, said the program has been a success, because students make reading a recreational activity instead of something they must do only for school.
"The program has been marvelous in reaching reluctant readers," she said. "They were thrilled to see the mayor taking a role as king. They got a real kick out of that."
Pub Date: 9/24/97