About 30 students clacked away their waning minutes of class time in Harlem Park Middle School's darkened computer lab, their faces illuminated by the colorful computer games' graphics.
Though the students were hard at play, lab manager Deborah Hardy assured guests that the students' 15 minutes of free time was a reward for finishing 30 minutes of algebra.
The reward system is a hallmark at Harlem Park, where 98 of 1,212 students have achieved perfect attendance so far this school year, about 70 more than last year. Yesterday, those students took home their biggest reward for that effort -- they went to the Druid Hill YMCA to receive a certificate and a $60, yearlong membership to the recreation center.
Michael McIntyre, Druid Hill interim branch executive director, said the school attendance program helps children avoid crime, drugs and pregnancy and learn the value of education.
The YMCA's $4,500 Project Perfect Attendance is one of the many incentive programs the school uses to keep students in class, said Vice Principal Robert J. Levine.
Levine said the school calls itself "The Place to Be" because teachers make learning fun; that is the mantra of many public service announcements, but Harlem Park is putting it into action.
Average attendance is about 88 percent in Baltimore's middle school grades (sixth, seventh and eighth). For the 150 school days through the end of April, 1,542 students had perfect attendance in Baltimore middle schools. Average attendance at
Harlem Park was about 87.5 percent, 6.6 percent higher than 1996-97.
Darius Savoy, who hasn't missed a day of seventh grade, said he comes to school, " 'cause I need a good education so I can get a better job."
The 12-year-old said he enjoys math most because his teacher uses activities that relate to students' daily lives.
He described a geometry project where students drew chalk circles on sidewalks and drew angles in the circles to make pictures.
He also described the classes' mini-business project: Each teacher represents a different business. The students earn fake money by coming to school, dressing up on Wednesdays and completing tasks. They use the money to buy items such as soaps, chess games, earrings and plants from the teachers' "stores."
Principal Wyatt Coger said the teachers' dedication makes the incentives work.
Dedra Robinson, 32, said she likes to use hands-on activities in her seventh-grade math classes. She brought in a pie to show students what fractions looked like. She said many students are rewarded with field trips.
"It actually brings them to school," Robinson said.
The school also has professionals -- doctors, lawyers, businessmen -- talk to the students about careers. It offers other after- and before-school programs to encourage children to use education as a positive alternative.
Robinson said several students have no strong role models at home, so teachers have to be their mentors, helping students visualize career goals.
At 14, Tiffany Tyndale already knows she wants to be a lawyer. The perfect-attendance student said she knows she'd fall into trouble if she didn't have school and the teachers to help her.
"They encourage me to do things they know I wouldn't accomplish [alone] in life," she said.
Pub Date: 5/29/98