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A different kind of homework

The Baltimore Sun

When Jade Wells spotted her middle school guidance counselor in the parking lot of her apartment complex, her eyes widened and a surprised smile spread across her face. The rising ninth-grader at Annapolis High School won't have Neasah Jones this year and missed seeing her welcoming face.

"Are you excited about school starting?" Jones asked, wrapping Jade in a hug.

"No," Jade said.

"What do you mean?" said Jones, a counselor at Annapolis Middle School.

Jade laughed. "Yeah, I'm excited," she said sheepishly.

Jones and about 40 guidance counselors and teachers from Annapolis public schools fanned out to their students' neighborhoods twice last week to pass out magnets, fact sheets and school calendars as back-to-school gifts. Students start school Aug. 25.

The counselors and teachers visited mostly public housing complexes. They went to Bay Ridge Gardens, Harbour House and Newtowne 20 on Tuesday. On Friday, they went to Robinwood, Clay Street/Bloomsbury Square and Annapolis Gardens. Some schools did their own outreach. Staffers from Rolling Knolls Elementary visited Admiral Heights on Thursday.

Guidance counselors from the Annapolis cluster developed the outreach project at one of their monthly meetings in the spring. They chose areas where parents might be cut off from the school community because of a lack of transportation or trouble rearranging work schedules.

"We wanted to make an effort to meet them in their communities," said Gayle Cicero, coordinator of school counseling for the county school system. "It sends an honest and clear message that [we're] interested."

Libby Westley, a guidance counselor at Annapolis Middle School, said they especially wanted to contact families that might not have access to the Internet or subscribe to newspapers.

"We wanted to reach out where there's that technology gap," she said.

Overall, they handed out information to 500 students, out of the nearly 5,500 students in the Annapolis cluster. The cluster includes Annapolis High School, Annapolis Middle School, Bates Middle School, and the nine elementary schools that feed into them.

Teachers also volunteered for the effort. Kristen Kibler, a physical education teacher at Annapolis High School, said she liked the fact that teachers from elementary, middle and high schools worked together. She said she enjoyed meeting children she will have in a few years.

Kibler and her colleague Brooke Walsh saw students they knew.

"Any kind of connection you can make before the school year starts is good," said Walsh, a social studies teacher.

Shirley Brandford of Newtowne has five grandchildren in Annapolis schools. She welcomed the teachers when they came to Newtowne. "It's good," Brandford said.

Deborah Sumler, also of Newtowne, has two grandchildren in Annapolis schools - a fifth-grader at Eastport Elementary School and a seventh-grader at Bates Middle School. She said she couldn't recall a similar outreach program.

"I hope it advances more to help this community," Sumler said.

Jones and Westley ran into sisters Tylesha Medley and Tyquesha Wallace on Tuesday at Harbour House. Westley is Tylesha's guidance counselor at Annapolis Middle. Jones will be Tyquesha's counselor when she starts sixth grade there later this month.

The girls smiled and waved when they saw the women and walked over to say hello.

"I'm happy because it feels like I hadn't seen them in so many years," said Tylesha, a rising seventh-grader. "Summer has been so boring."

Their guardian, Ada Bailey, said it was "a great thing" to see the counselors in the neighborhood.

"Are you going to one of the orientations?" Jones asked.

"Yes," Bailey replied, "I plan to make it to one of them."

Jones said the idea came from the "One Annapolis" concept of all schools trying to work together for the children.

Jones said she saw "tons" of familiar faces Tuesday.

"I think it's going great," she said.

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