In room 229, Sam Maruca turned toward the blackboard and wrote what he was told.
"Put up there that Italians have to live with being called gangsters," one hefty school teacher directed.
Maruca, a Montgomery County teacher-training specialist, added the information to a long list of problems endured by Cubans, Italians, blacks and other ethnic groups in the United States. He and his partner, Janet Wells, were leading a course on adjustment problems minority groups face.
A discussion of common traits shared by Cubans, Italians and blacks included such items as the fact that all three groups emigrated from across the sea, blacks and some Cubans have dark skin, and Cubans and Italians often have tight-knit religious families.
The scene was Montgomery College, one of five sites where some 11,000 county school employes gathered last week to participate in a mandatory two-day series of workshops on multi-ethnic education.
The purpose of the workshops, sponsored by the school system's human relations department, was to familiarize employes with the problems of ethnic minorities in order to promote greater understanding among minority groups and races.
Some of the participants found the conference less than inspiring.
"Is it worthwhile?," class leader Maruca pondered. "Well, I don't know, but I guess you have to consider it against having nothing at all."
Although it is only two years old, the multi-ethnic convention's history is controversial. Black community leaders have lambasted it as an unacceptable substitute for the 45-hour black studies course all school employes were required to take up until last year.
"The convention is a waste of time and money," complained Rev. Braxton Boyd, a member of the county's minority-relations monitoring committee and a junior high school teacher in the District.
"There is no way possible that you can teach something in six hours. Its not even a first step."
The county's NAACP chapter and Alpha Phi Alpha, a black professional fraternity, did not endorse this year's convention and asked their members, other than school employes, not to participate in its planning.
Despite the grumbling surrounding the convention's effectiveness, some participants roamed the halls, obviously enjoying dipping into some of the 100 topics offered. The subjects ranged from "Are Catholics a Minority in the U.S.?" to "An Overview of the Ethnics' Views of Themselves in the U.S."
"It's a great improvement over last year. It's better organized. There is so much as teachers that we don't know about different cultures that we need to learn something," said Marcia Geiger, a first grade teacher at Viers Mill school in Silver Spring.
Geiger did say, however, that she was disappointed with parts of the convention.
"The major problem is that it (the convention) is not long enough. I attended a session on teaching minority children to read that lasted only an hour and a half. How can that possibly be enough?"
The need for some training in minority education, county officials said, grows as minority enrollment continues to increase in county schools. The total minority enrollment was 19.6 percent in 1979, up from 12.6 percent in 1975 and 8.1 percent in 1970.
"It takes time to change peoples' attitudes," concluded teaching specialist Janet Wells, "but for many attending this convention, this is the beginning to an understanding that was never there before."