Teaching Rosebuds to blossom

The Baltimore Sun

The 14 children sat at tables in the cafeteria at George D. Lisby Elementary School at Hillsdale and made reindeer antlers.

Using pre-cut antlers of brown foam paper, the girls decorated them with adhesive Christmas designs that included candy canes, snowflakes, snowmen, peppermint candy and holly leaves.

"The girls are making the antlers for a fundraiser," said Kathy Blythe, the counselor at the school for the past 17 years. "They will sell them all week, then everyone will wear them on Friday, which is Reindeer Day."

The funds they raise would go toward Rosebuds, a group they are a part of. The group - whose name stands for Responsibility, Opportunity, Scholarship, Etiquette, Bravery, Unity, Determination, Success - was started in 2004 and is designed to help fourth- and fifth-grade girls learn better behavior.

"Through the Rosebuds program, we try to get the girls to see the hidden rules in society," said Blythe, who serves as Lisby's Rosebud coordinator. "In church, there are things you don't do. No one tells you what they are, but everyone knows."

The program is also offered at Halls Cross Roads Elementary and is coordinated by Amy Behlert, the school counselor. The participants at both schools meet weekly for 30-minute sessions from September through May.

During the sessions, the girls learn about team building and communication, friendship, gossip, bullying, academics, entrepreneurship and preparation for Maryland School Assessment tests. At the end of the year, they have either a party or a field trip. This year, they plan to go see Beauty and the Beast and go out for dinner at Applebee's.

The program is funded through grants, donations, a winter fundraiser (selling reindeer antlers) and a spring fundraiser - selling jewelry and bookmarks.

The girls are referred to the program by teachers to improve their attendance, communication skills, social skills, self-awareness or background knowledge.

"These girls come to us with problems making friends, attendance and academic issues," Blythe said. "Some of the girls have one problem, and some of them have many. Our goal is to help them grow."

Throughout the school year, the students have four goals: to learn to communicate with others; recognize that the choices they make will determine their success; make and keep friends; and learn to respect themselves and their talents.

The girls earn points for attendance, completing classwork and homework, and behavior. For every 10 points earned, they receive a rose in a vase. At the end of the year, they have a bouquet of roses to take home with them, Blythe said.

The benefits to participating in the program are numerous, she said.

"The Rosebuds are building friendship skills, learning to believe in themselves, and their strengths," Blythe said.

The girls recently made the antlers with school volunteers Betty Elliott, 74, of Aberdeen; Lydia Harris, 48, of Havre de Grace, who works as a paraeducator at the school; and Susan Sampson, 42, of Aberdeen, who works as the school's family liaison.

As they worked, they discussed the impact of the program on their lives.

Vanelle Makou joined the program because she wanted to learn how to act in social settings, she said as she pressed a couple of candy canes on antlers. Although she was selected by a teacher and had some social skills, she wanted to improve herself, she said.

"I learned some table manners," said Vanelle, 10, a fifth-grader from Aberdeen. "I knew some stuff, but not everything. I wanted to know it all."

She has also learned how to control herself, she said.

"I have learned when to be happy and when to be sad," she said. "I am reaching my goals. I came here a girl and will leave a lady."

Verlena Ridgley thinks the program is a great way to get "lady lessons."

"I had a little manners but I wanted a few more," said Verlena, 10, a fifth-grader. "It's working. I am more of a little lady now. I say please and thank you, and my mom smiles at me a lot."

A tomboy by nature, Carley Simpson said she wanted to become more feminine.

"I want to be a proper lady," said Carley, 10, a fifth-grader, enunciating every word. "I have learned that I should sit up straight and be very gentle. And not call other kids - no matter how bad they are - bad names."

The youngster has blossomed, Blythe said.

"Carley was quiet when she started, and now she is a role model," she said. "She is blossoming like a little rose."

Although the lessons have been on a variety of topics, Carley has learned, first and foremost, the importance of having good manners, she said.

"We all need to be ladies and gentlemen," said Carley. "If people don't have good manners, then everyone would be gross and nasty."

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