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Letters to the editor

The Baltimore Sun

Time to recognize social workers

March is National Social Work Appreciation Month. This month gives us the opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of social workers -- both past and present -- who advocate for services and policies that improve their clients' lives.

Social work is a profession devoted to helping people function the best they can in their environment. Its approach is unique among the helping professions since it focuses on people's problems in the context of their social environment. It can mean providing direct services or therapy to clients. It can also mean working for change to improve social conditions. Social workers help people overcome social and health issues such as poverty, mental illness, child abuse and neglect, emotional instability, illness, economic uncertainty, domestic violence, homelessness and drug abuse. They may work with individuals, couples, families and groups to identify and overcome these problems.

All social workers deserve proper recognition and appreciation, but I'd like to especially acknowledge social workers at the Howard County Department of Social Services. Specifically, there are 45 social workers who serve Howard County families. These hard-working individuals work with some of the most challenging populations in some of the worst environments. They work with their clients in hospitals, homes, schools and communities in order to help them succeed -- or sometimes even survive -- in life.

During this Social Work Appreciation Month, we urge your readers to take the time to recognize these unsung heroes and heroines. Please call the Maryland Department of Human Resources at 800-555- 1345 or visit our Web site at www.dhr.state.md.us if you are ever in need.

Charlene R. Gallion

The writer is the director of the Howard County Department of Social Services.

Mikulis' reaction raises concern

It was with great concern that I read ("Aging Schools A Concern," March 11, The Sun) that Diane Mikulis, the Howard County school board chairman, has been miffed by the outcry at Mount Hebron, in particular the request to demolish and replace the entire facility. Mikulis referred to complaints that resulted in the school receiving a renovated auditorium in 2004.

Because of that outcry, they got an auditorium, she said. "Now they want to tear it down?"

When my 18-year-old, physically challenged daughter was getting ready to enter Mount Hebron as a freshman, we were able to tour the classrooms she would be using to not only help her familiarize herself with the school, but to see how accessible the classrooms would be.

While she could get to and from classes, there were issues with getting out of the building in case of an emergency (keep in mind that 9/11 had just happened the year before).

The concerns were not only if she was upstairs, but exits from classrooms on the first floor hindered her leaving with her classmates in the event of an emergency due to stairs or non- existing ramps. Thinking these issues would be remedied for the sake of my student and any other student with physical challenges, I had faith the system would take care of these issues.

It was later suggested, once the cost of alterations to bring some of the areas up to ADA code had surpassed $250,000, [that] she be transferred to a school in the county that better met ADA codes. She has had challenges beyond just the obvious physical needs, and sending her off to a school where she had no friends and further from home would have devastated my daughter and sabotaged her chances of success. I knew we had other routes in which to resolve this issue.

At my daughter's request, I prayed that no disaster would strike and I backed off. She has always been the one to have to adapt to her surroundings as well as the social stigma of being "different."

During her junior year, I was invited to tour the school with Mr. Cousin [Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin]. My role, I'm sure, was to give insight into the lack of ADA compliance. With a 40-year-old school, built as a middle school, my task was easy. In order for my daughter to get around the narrow, crowded halls between classes, she had to miss the first and last five minutes of class time.

The locker rooms lacked any way for her to get seriously involved with any sports. She had to be pushed the long way around the building to meet up with her class on many occasions when they were taken outside. If upstairs during a fire, she was instructed to stay up there until the Fire Department came to get her while all her classmates had left the building.

During performances with the choir, she had to be carried up a flight of stairs if the county's temporary lift was not available. Even if it was, she had to be humiliated with a lift attached to the front of the stage that could noisily get her up during a performance. She would have loved to be involved with the wonderful musicals but never was because she knew the stage and its wings would not accommodate her without inconveniencing others. The list goes on.

What I did not expect during this tour was seeing more of the school than a parent or visitor would normally see, yet our children have to deal with day in and day out. I was appalled at the condition of the school. I now understood why my kids never quite knew what to wear as the temperature changes were so severe. There are some things that spit and polish just cannot fix. I did not expect this in a Howard County school. I was embarrassed by what I saw. I know we pay taxes, how could this be?

The problem I have with Mikulis' statement is her portrayal of the school system as "giving" Mount Hebron an auditorium. The result of my conversations with the superintendent did not result in Mount Hebron being given a new auditorium. It did result in the stage area being within ADA compliance. Not ideal -- it was an improvement. Hebron did receive new seating, but our understanding was that request was already in the works of being granted. There was a new paint job and an update to our backstage mechanical equipment, which was deemed to be unsafe.

All funds came from the operating budget. Are we thankful for what we received? Yes, but to now use this as a reason to not address the needs of the school is unacceptable.

No matter what the ultimate decision will be for Mount Hebron, the spending of operating funds to bring a school into ADA compliance for the sake of our physically challenged students and visitors is a must. As to the updated chairs, whether the ultimate decision is to renovate or rebuild, why can we not reuse them along with the updated mechanical equipment?

I hope that Mikulis will rethink the stance she has taken with Mount Hebron. For the good of our community and Howard County in general, use her efforts to question and obtain the needed information to make an informed decision that is a wise economic, long-term investment and brings the needed improvement to make a safe and healthy learning environment at Mount Hebron High School.

Dianne M. Carlson Ellicott City

Exercise our vision, and take a risk

When Columbia was first conceived, it was realized that there were great risks involved.

European and New York state new towns were all based on substantial government funding; the funding for Columbia was private.

But that was not the only risk. There were social and architectural norms, as well. And vision over status quo was the order of the day.

Columbia was never meant to be an ordinary suburb. We must exercise our vision and take a risk; build tall buildings, with a plaza, small shops and restaurants. Let us look beyond being defined by a mall and see ourselves as small city for all to enjoy and live in.

Fred and Leslie Glassberg Clarksville

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