Academic achievement among the county's small but growing Hispanic student population has been the focal point of increased discussion and decision making by school officials.
Last week, in giving initial passage to a $554.5 million operating budget, the school board approved funding for two assistants who would work with academic interventions in the villages of Wilde Lake, Oakland Mills and Owen Brown, home to a number of Hispanic families.
During a public hearing last month, several parents had urged the board to allocate more funds and resources to Hispanic students.
The system also plans to move an English for Speakers of Other Languages liaison to a midlevel administration position, said Joshua Kaufman, the board chairman. That means an ESOL specialist will be working directly with curriculum and instruction programs at the central office level.
"We wanted to get them performing to standards that their community is demanding of them," Kaufman said of the Hispanic students.
Hispanics account for 4 percent of the system's 48,485 students, according to the system's 2005 Ethnicity Report. Hispanic students have the highest dropout rate in the county and record some of the lowest assessment scores in biology, algebra, English and social studies, 2005 state statistics show.
On Feb. 25, about 100 people showed up at Wilde Lake High School for an orientation for Hispanic parents, which included a presentation about the state High School Assessment tests, now a requirement for current ninth-graders to graduate.
The event was a huge success and the largest turnout by the Hispanic community the system has ever seen, said Young-chan Han, a family outreach specialist for ESOL.
"It was simply amazing to see that many parents and students come to learn about the High School Assessment," Han added.
Gift drive for troops, children
The Howard County PTA Council is gathering gifts for troops and children in Iraq and Afghanistan and will present the items to troops tomorrow night at the Board of Education in Ellicott City.
The drive - which coincides with the council's monthly meeting - is one of four outreach projects that the PTA Council has scheduled for the 2005-2006 school year.
"It is an excellent opportunity to support children and our troops," said Nehemiah Spence III, Family Involvement Committee chairman for the PTA Council. "It goes along with the focus of the PTA."
Spence said he expects participation from 68 school PTAs.
The gifts will be entrusted to members of the Army Reserve, who will send a truck, two buses and several soldiers to collect the donations and take the items to Fort Meade.
Black Saga history contest
Victor Atta-Dakwa, 12, a seventh-grader at Patapsco Middle School, battled 44 county pupils last weekend during the system's first Black Saga competition, and he loved every minute of it.
The 2 1/2 -hour black history trivia contest at Cradlerock School in Columbia was filled with dozens of questions and two sudden-death rounds, which Atta-Dakwa's team won.
"We were very nervous, but when we worked together we pulled through," he said.
And even though his team placed third, he was happy to compete in the event, an informal warm-up for a statewide competition this month.
"I think we did really good coming in third place out of all the other schools," he said.
A team from Cradlerock School made the most of its home court advantage and won the contest while a team from Folly Quarter Middle School placed second.
The competition pits teams of three against one another and is based on the 608-page book, Black Saga: The African American Experience: A Chronology.
Questions can range from 1990s pop culture references to the history of the first Africans brought to America.
"Most of the questions were hard," said Dickson Poku, Victor's teammate. "I knew most of the answers, but with the pressure I forgot some of the answers."
The statewide competition will be held March 18 at Towson University. In that event, about 700 pupils will compete for prizes ranging from $300 each for first-place competitors to plaques for top 10 finishers.