Kids learn trust and teamwork

The Baltimore Sun

On the second floor of East Middle School, Chad Arrington, 19, split his time between scanning a seventh-grader's math worksheet on transformations and looking for the word "jihad" in a puzzle.

Downstairs, Drew Strumsky, 19, leaned back in his chair as he quizzed three sixth-graders on vocabulary terms relating to Egypt.

Later, near a back entrance, Kurt Rauschenberg, 25, pulled up on the bitter-cold afternoon with a camouflage-painted Humvee and howitzer.

The three are McDaniel College mentors, and part of a new program called T'N'T - Trust and Teamwork - for middle school boys.

A grant of about $20,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and handed out by the county's Health Department, helped make a program that McDaniel faculty and school system officials have dreamed about become a reality.

So many programs are geared toward girls, said Master Sgt. Jose Flores, senior military instructor at McDaniel.

"There wasn't one really here for boys," Flores said. "The bottom line is we needed something for boys."

Now Flores and two McDaniel sociology professors have designed Trust and Teamwork, which connects college students to boys who participate in the after-school Community Learning Center. The center caters to kids who struggle academically, although other children can attend, said Melissa Meyer, East Middle's learning center site coordinator.

The boys, who mostly have female teachers during the day, now have the opportunity to interact more with men, Meyer said.

"Boys in middle school begin to search for male role models," said Debra Lemke, chair of McDaniel's sociology department. "We have some wonderful ones here in the college."

Through Monday and Wednesday meetings and activities, T'N'T emphasizes making good life decisions and avoiding "risky behavior," whether alcohol abuse, drug use or early sexual activity, said Peg Kulow, the school system's supervisor of intervention services.

It also focuses on leadership, teamwork and respect for authority, Meyer said.

The latter was on the agenda last Monday, as Rauschenberg, who has served in the Army National Guard and also had attended East Middle as an eighth-grader, stood before about 15 boys.

"This lesson is going to be [about] authority figures," Rauschenberg said. He asked the boys to name some.

"My dad," said seventh-grader Luis Villanueva, 12, and eighth-grader Anthony Palmerino, 13, as did many of their peers.

The police, sixth-grader Durell Fenderson, 12, answered.

While most named men, Rauschenberg said, "Females should be respected just as much as a male."

He went on to describe two women who contributed significantly during the American Revolutionary War: Margaret Corbin, who fought alongside her husband, and Molly Pitcher, who carried water jugs to parched soldiers on the battlefield.

"Think of a female you respect," Rauschenberg then said to the group.

"Miss Meyer," Luis said, referring to the learning center coordinator.

Others named their mothers.

"Maya Angelou," Arrington said. The boys' heads turned.

"Who?" one asked.

"A writer," Arrington said.

The program comes about eight years after McDaniel sociology professor Lauren Dundes and a former student developed Fields of Wings, which targets girls and takes place at New Windsor, West and Northwest Middle schools.

There had not been enough money to launch a similar resource for boys at that time, Kulow said.

Unlike Fields of Wings, which fosters one-on-one relationships, Dundes said, T'N'T focuses more on groups.

"It's pretty clear that, for many of [the boys], having sports or an activity as a central part is critical," Dundes said.

The McDaniel students are responsible for each day's lesson plans and determine the best way to convey the concepts to the boys, Lemke said.

For Arrington, Rauschenberg and Strumsky, mentoring is nothing new. Strumsky, a sociology major and soccer player, served as a peer helper in high school and has an 11-year-old brother.

Rauschenberg recently led the creation of an ROTC cadet-mentoring program, which the McDaniel professors drew from for East Middle, Flores said.

Arrington, who has younger brothers and works with kids at basketball camps, said he knows boys need direction.

"You want to have someone you can relate to," he said. "I feel like they can relate to us."

Lemke and school officials said they would like to expand the program to other middle schools - and other students.

East Middle is working on an internship credit for McDaniel students to mentor more of their young counterparts, said Philip Popielski, an assistant principal.

"We're trying to do as many things as we can here at East to mentor not just our boys, but all our students," Popielski said. "This is a good start."

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