New program puts tutoring close to home; Morgan State students work with children at public housing centers


Seven-year-old Damesha Davis handed off her freshly finished math homework to Dare Johnson for his approval and pulled out the next set of problems from her aqua school folder.

Johnson, a Morgan State University sophomore, looked over the math problems while Damesha scribbled sentences on a piece of paper.

For another hour, Damesha and Johnson, 21, a computer science major, worked through the homework in a new after-school program at the Pleasant View Gardens Boys and Girls Club. The tutoring program, run by the Baltimore Urban Systemic Initiative (BUSI), has been launched at six public housing complexes to bring instructional services near children's homes.

"I just see it as an opportunity to reach out and affect someone in a positive way," said Johnson.

Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III officially announced the program this week. Sites also include Westport Homes, Cherry Hill Homes, Latrobe Homes, Claremont Homes and The Terraces. The program is a partnership that involves the National Science Foundation, the city housing authority, Boys and Girls Clubs, Morgan State, Baltimore public schools and the University of Maryland, College Park. The groups contributed a total of $500,000 for the tutoring and related programs.

The idea, Henson said, is to stress parental involvement, offer individual tutoring and homework assistance -- especially in math and science -- teach computer skills and provide peer counseling.

"We need to instill in the children a real zeal, a real excitement for learning," Henson said.

Jonathan Wilson, BUSI's director, said the public housing complexes were chosen because children often have problems staying after school.

Bringing the service -- modeled after the Maryland Functional Mathematics Test Tutorial Program, which BUSI started in city middle schools in 1995 -- closer to home, Wilson said, "takes away the excuses."

Damesha said having tutors so close to home makes it easier to get help.

The approximately 50 tutors are Morgan State University students. As the program expands, Wilson said, students from other local colleges will be asked to participate.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said the new program gives minority students, who often fall behind their white peers in technology, more exposure to computers.

"This will help us a great deal to close the digital divide," Schmoke said.

Baltimore's schools chief, Robert Booker, said the program will improve student achievement and increase parental and community involvement.

"It brings a great deal of hope for our young people," Booker said, "and we need all the help we can get."

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