Housing Forum Set

All interested citizens in the Southern Maryland area are invited to the 2003 (third annual) Affordable Housing Forum. This year's event will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 1 at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center, 44129 Airport Rd., California. Sponsors of the program include the Southern Maryland Tri-County Community Action Committee, the Archdiocese of Washington, St. Mary's County Housing Authority, Cedar Lane Apartments, and Progressive Southern Maryland.

The aim of the forum is to draw people interested in exploring the current status of affordable housing needs in the area by listening to a slate of morning speakers and participating in the afternoon breakout sessions where the issues will be discussed and possible solutions will be generated. Morning speakers will include Victor Hoskins, secretary of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development; Dana Jones, executive director, Southern Maryland Tri-County Community Action Committee; and Pete DiSalvo and Ken Danter, Danter Company, reporting on the recently completed housing needs assessment study done for St. Mary's County.

Various county and community leaders will lead the afternoon breakout sessions. Topics will include senior housing and special needs issues; the livability code; "Doing a Deal," structuring the financing for affordable housing development; the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, including landlord rights and responsibilities; home ownership with limited resources, traps to avoid and insurance concerns; and homelessness in St. Mary's County.

Between morning speakers and afternoon workshops, attendees will enjoy a lunch break while sharing thoughts and ideas with old and new friends, neighbors and co-workers. People may bring their own lunches or may order a Chick-fil-A lunch ($5) during the 9 a.m. sign-in.

Any questions may be directed to Georgia Wheeler at 301-994-1960 or jbwassoc@erols.com.

Georgia Wheeler

Affordable Housing

Forum Committee

Tall Timbers

Classes Worth Saving

I had the pleasure of attending a community meeting on Thursday night where teachers and parents gathered to try to save the Family and Consumer Science (FACS) classes in St. Mary's County middle schools. Things sure have come a long way since I took shop, sewing and cooking in middle school back in the '70s. The rich FACS curriculum almost seems to cover "life" -- from nutrition, fitness, personal finance, child care and conflict resolution to agricultural science, environmental protection and mechanical engineering.

I was completely rapt as I heard tell of one miracle after another -- like the story of a student who built a miniature tower out of thin wooden strips. Carefully designed using the best engineering practices, this tiny structure weighing less than an ounce withstood loads in excess of 300 pounds! When one teacher recounted a project which entailed students working in teams to design and test turbine engines, it struck me that Navy engineers are doing the same kinds of things a few miles down the road every day. Pretty amazing stuff for middle school. Who says we need charter schools to foster innovation?

Another teacher told of how the concept of fractions can be reinforced through the simple act of selecting measuring cups for a baking project. One special education teacher spoke of how well FACS activities could be adjusted to accommodate children with disabilities, who seem to flourish especially well in FACS classes right along with their regular education peers. The mother of a future engineer and honor roll student told of how her son craves the kinds of opportunities provided by FACS to apply his math and science talents in a hands-on way.

It was so sad to learn that the FACS program will be almost completely dismantled to make way for double periods of reading aimed at raising standardized tests scores, and for shorter periods of self-guided tutorials on Microsoft Office software products. I'm sure Bill Gates himself would shudder at the thought of such an unfair trade.

I urge the members of the St. Mary's Board of Education to have a little faith. While the curriculum changes you have just approved may seem appropriate in light of the draconian provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), know that the writing is already on the wall for this underfunded legislation, which will soon crumble under the weight of its own unrealistic expectations and counterproductive testing mandates. In fact, leaders in at least three states are already considering passing on federal funding tied to NCLB. When parents realize the impact the law is sure to have on the rich and diverse curriculum in our schools, there will certainly be a backlash that will lead to sweeping amendments.

If we have learned anything from the recent rash of corporate accounting scandals, it is this: Bad things always happen when people in power are encouraged to focus almost exclusively on narrow measurements, whether they be stock prices or standardized test scores. If programs like FACS aren't saved from the ravages of standardized test abuse, folks all over the country will be scratching their heads in a few years wondering why there are no more miracles in public education, just as we are wondering what happened to our 401k balances. I hope that parents and school board members in St. Mary's County will draw the line on the testing craze by saving this valuable program. Life is more than a multiple choice test, and our children are more than their test scores.

In the words of Art Costa, a professor at California State University, "What was once educationally significant, but difficult to measure, has been replaced by what is insignificant and easy to measure. So now we test how well we have taught what we do not value." Programs like FACS offer benefits to students that are indeed difficult to measure -- gifts like confidence, maturity, camaraderie, passion and hope for the future. Programs like FACS inspire children to want to read more about the world around them. Don't eliminate FACS. Expand it! And watch the test scores take care of themselves.

Sue Allison

Lusby

Allison is the coordinator of Marylanders Against High Stakes Testing.

Hope for Hospice

I want to take this opportunity to thank and applaud the vision of Senators [Thomas] Middleton, [Roy] Dyson, [Leonard] Teitelbaum and [John] Hafer for introducing SB 732 -- the hospice bill -- along with other champions from Charles County, Delegates Van Mitchell, Sally Jameson and Louis Hennessy, for their support during this passionately debated bill. The bill was introduced to protect hospice and Maryland's citizens from the incursion by out-of-state organizations who would have severely impacted our ability to do what we do best.

We believe the intentions of the out-of-state organizations may very well have compromised the availability of timely and quality hospice care that is sorely needed by deserving patients who are looking for answers and end-of-life care after being diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Thousands of citizens have a vested interest in Hospice of Charles County. It may be a friend or family member who has received hospice care during their terminal illness; or a surviving loved one who has participated in our grief counseling and bereavement sessions or Camp Sunshine (for children). It may be the countless number of loyal supporters who strongly believe in what we are doing and send generous contributions, or who participate in fundraising events sponsored by Friends of Hospice Foundation, and remember hospice in their will. Or it may be the hundreds of dedicated volunteers who perform selfless acts of kindness throughout the year. Your hospice -- Hospice of Charles County -- is here for you . . . when you need us . . . where you need us . . . and for as long as you need us. We're community-based and you can depend on us.

Citizens of Maryland -- especially those of us who are served by Senator Middleton and Delegates Mitchell, Jameson and Hennessy -- are very fortunate to have the hardworking and effective representatives that we have protecting your interests in Annapolis. Their passion for hospice ensured that the bill received overwhelming support in both chambers, and we thank them for their tireless efforts.

Hospice is a nonprofit organization that has served this community for 20 years, providing effective pain and symptom management, bereavement services, volunteer opportunities and so much more. Because we are so fortunate to receive support from the public, we are able to provide the medication, medical equipment and supplies, as well as offer other programs and services at no charge to patients and their families. That's a benefit to families that we will have an opportunity to continue.

For information about referrals to hospice care or other programs, call 301-934-1268.

Pamela J. Hamorsky, R.N.

President and CEO

Hospice of Charles County

La Plata

Don't Let Dogs Roam

Kitten and puppy season is here. It's the busiest time of the year for the Tri-County Animal Shelter and the many humane-group volunteers in our area. Each year we are inundated with calls about unwanted kittens and puppies, stray dogs and cats, abandoned pets, but spring and summer are unbelievable.

Cases involving dogs at large are particularly a problem in our community. People continuing to let their dogs roam, despite the well-known dangers to pets and people that this poses. There is a leash law in Calvert County, but beyond obeying the law there seems to be a stronger mentality of, "We're in the country, its okay to let my dogs out." Roaming dogs, even the most well behaved at home, can pose threats to humans and other animals when they are left to roam. For the dog, what a stroll down the road can lead to is the creation of litters of kittens and puppies, being hit by a vehicle, being picked up by people with cruel intentions, eating bad things that can sicken or kill it, being lost or wounded by other animals. The list goes on. Roaming dogs do damage to others' property and leave feces behind in neighbors' yards. But beyond being a nuisance or in danger, dogs who roam are dangerous. They can quickly form "packs" and become territorial, even when alone, when not at the end of a leash. This can be devastating to other pets and people, but especially small children who play in their yards.

This issue is best seen through a child's eyes. Last fall I received a note from a young girl (age 9) who had seen a humane education presentation that I did last year. She wanted me to know that her family had adopted a pet. This was a nice thing for her to share with me, but it had a very special meaning. During that presentation, her mom was stroking her hair. The child's comments indicated she had been harmed by a dog. We chatted afterward. "Sandy" had not been able to be comfortable in the presence of dogs since she was attacked. About two years before this, her mother watched in horror out of their kitchen window as a neighbor's 9-month-old mixed-breed male dog, which had not been neutered, began to attack her child.

"Everything moved in slow motion," she recalled. "I was seeing blood but my legs were not moving fast enough." After several stitches and much emotional as well as physical pain, this child's fear of dogs is only magnified when a roaming dog approaches her, or a person does not control his or her dog and it jumps at her. "I like dogs and, not to be mean, but people just don't think," her mother said. "That 'nice dog' could have killed my child."

Any dog at large can be dangerous. Those who have marked their territory pose a very significant risk to their community. The dog that attacked this little girl knew her as friendly, but since he roamed on her property frequently, it was his territory. One thing is certain, this dog was not under the supervision of his owner and the child was very fortunate that her mother was supervising her. Her mother was also bitten. The dog was destroyed. The owner and others all agreed that the dog had never been aggressive and was "always friendly, just a puppy and nipped playfully at most." But a dog that attacks a child is too dangerous to keep alive. It is sad to think that proper training and a fence were probably all that was needed to keep a nice family dog for many years, save a child from a horrible nightmare and a mother incredible anguish.

Unwanted pets appear at our doors by the dozens each year and many times there is "no room at the inn." Dogs and cats can be neutered as early as eight weeks of age. Please help us prevent pet overpopulation and keep your pets safely supervised and contained. We work hard to get this message out. The humane groups are made up completely of volunteers and foster homes. We are your neighbors and friends. We ask for your continued support to help us make a difference in Calvert County.

To showcase our work and the wonderful outcomes that are possible when neighbors work together and people care about pets, visit the third annual Pet Education and Adoptions Day at Fox Run Shopping Center in Prince Frederick from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 3. Several animal welfare organizations will have pets for adoption and educational information will be available. Many volunteers will be there to answer pet questions. The staff at the Tri-County Animal Shelter would like to encourage you to stop in at the shelter on this day as well. For more information, contact the Patuxent Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) at 410-326-1616.

Teresa Culver

PAWS Education Chairperson

Prince Frederick