Who would have thought that you could learn science by shooting hoops?
But that's the lesson students attending a two-week program at Drew Freeman Middle School got this summer. About six dozen students were introduced to concepts such as Newton's laws of gravity through basketball.
Over at Forestville High School, incoming ninth-graders received refresher courses in math, reading and science for two weeks last month.
And, at Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School, 24 seventh- and eighth-graders improvised, acted out and talked for three weeks to help increase their self-confidence and theatrical skills.
Each of those programs got as much as $1,000 for supplies and materials thanks to donations from local businesses to the Prince George's Education Foundation.
Those grants may seem like financial peanuts for a school system with an $876 million budget, but for those students, that cash made all the difference in the world. In some cases, students wouldn't have been able to participate or teachers would have had to come up with the money themselves.
"When the budget needs to be cut, these are the types of programs that are the first to go," said Carol A. Vitale, the Education Foundation's executive director.
In all, the foundation awarded about $10,000 in grants for educational programs this summer to help boost the skills of county students.
People in this county, including me, talk about the need for solutions to what ails the school system. Well, here's one solution that could have a tremendous impact.
The foundation, which was established in 1997, is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization created to provide resources and money for supplemental educational programs in the county. It's modeled after foundations that support colleges and universities. So far, the foundation has raised $60,000 to $80,000, including in-kind services. This fall, 14 programs are getting grants totaling $27,000.
Now that's what I call putting your money where your mouth is. If we want to see test scores rise and students graduate who are capable of going on to good colleges and great jobs, money has to be found for extracurricular programs that can motivate students to learn.
On Friday, Iris T. Metts, the county's new superintendent, plans to announce several initiatives aimed at getting businesses more involved in helping her enhance the quality and image of the school system.
Although Metts didn't reveal her entire business-education partnership plan, she did communicate through a school spokeswoman some of the following initiatives:
* She wants to recruit 10,000 mentors to help students with reading and math. Metts will be looking to the business community to help identify many of the mentors.
* She plans to establish a business round table and recruit prominent business leaders to serve on this advisory board. "She wants to hear from businesses ways she and they can help improve the schools," said a school spokesman. The spokesman said Metts won't be dictating an agenda but instead wants to "pull the players together first and hear their thoughts."
* She also wants to create more student internships to help graduates make the transition from school to work.
It's not as if businesses in the county haven't been helping. An audit of the school system released last year identified at least 365 business partnerships that include technical assistance and legions of volunteers tutoring students.
However, business leaders interviewed for the audit complained that the school system had been isolating itself from the business community and "appears to only want funding and not advice."
One of the problems the audit also pointed out was that too many people within the school system are trying to forge their own deals. Central office staff even acknowledged that individual schools weren't always reporting the full extent or even existence of some business partnerships because they didn't want school officials to step in or dilute the deals.
This is all too maddening. What ends up happening is that schools that are good at marketing themselves to businesses make out much better than those that aren't.
That's where the Education Foundation could make all the difference in the world.
"It is in the system's best interest to consolidate efforts to solicit from businesses for their support, because many businesses do not appreciate multiple solicitations from one organization," the auditor's report concluded. "A central contact and control point for solicitation will be able to create coordinated fund-raising campaigns to benefit all schools."
Creating a foundation for the school system makes a lot of sense. The Prince George's County system is so needy that sometimes it is hard to justify spending money to teach students science through basketball. Yet a 10-year-old who is bored listening to his teacher drone on about Newton's law of gravity might suddenly get inspired about science when he sees those principles applied to the game.
It also makes sense to create one pot from which to spread around the good fortunes.
"The difference with the foundation is that it supports the entire system, not just one cluster of schools," Vitale said. "We have to have a true coordinated effort so that every time businesses turn around, they don't have a different member of the school system with their hands out."
More importantly, it allows businesses--those unsure how to help or previously untapped, or not tapped enough--to give in a fair and organized way.
As Metts puts forth her wish list for the business community, I certainly hope the Education Foundation is a priority.
"What businesses get out of this is a more coordinated effort from us, so we all get a better educated class of students graduating from our system," Vitale said. "That's the bottom line."
Talkin' Money appears every other Wednesday in the Prince George's Extra. If you have comments or column ideas, send me a letter or e-mail. You can write to me in c/o Talkin' Money, 14402 Old Mill Rd. Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772. My e-mail address is email@example.com.
CAPTION: Carol A. Vitale is executive director of the Prince George's Education Foundation, a group that tries to support the entire school system.