UPPER MARLBORO – Residents want the county council to think of the children as the budget process winds to a close. Citizens and representatives of various groups testified at the council’s second and final public hearing on the county fiscal year 2017 (FY17) budget and capital improvements program, including the school system’s budget, on May […]
UPPER MARLBORO – Residents want the county council to think of the children as the budget process winds to a close.
Citizens and representatives of various groups testified at the council’s second and final public hearing on the county fiscal year 2017 (FY17) budget and capital improvements program, including the school system’s budget, on May 10, and the majority of their remarks dealt with helping the children of Prince George’s County in various ways.
Liberty’s Promise, an afterschool program serving low-income immigrant youth with civic engagement and internship programs, brought a large contingent of students and residents to advocate for county funding.
Priscille Ndozomo, a sophomore at Parkdale High School, said the program has taught her valuable resume writing and job interview skills, as well as exposed her to a variety of career options she hadn’t considered.
“Before Liberty’s Promise, I had never heard of careers such as medical illustrators and canine coordinators for Homeland Security, but they were a few of the speakers that came and encouraged us,” she said.
Another Liberty’s Promise student, Lindsey Adua, who graduated from Northwestern High School, explained the benefit for her went deeper than that. After immigrating at age 10, Adua said she was teased by peers for her accent, and her grades suffered because of that, along with her difficulty with English. But she said after joining Liberty’s Promise, she found a support system.
“Liberty’s Promise helped me to express myself and not be afraid to take chances in life. Every student that attends the program now has high hopes for the future. They want to be great. They want to do something great,” Adua said.
She was elected president of her school’s chapter, which she credits as the rekindling her childhood dreams.
“It was my dream as a child to grow up and be a leader. My L.P. family believes in me and I’m very grateful for that,” Adua said.
The program is run by Executive Director Bob Ponichtera, who presented the council with statistics detailing the success of Liberty’s Promise. He said they have been operating for six years and out of 291 students, 288 of them either graduated or are still in the program.
“Three people in six years have dropped out of school on our watch. I think that’s an important statistic to emphasize,” he said.
Another group, REAL School Gardens (RSG), also provided facts and figures to justify their funding request before the council. April Martin, regional director, said RSG partner schools saw marked increases in test scores as a result of their work.
“Our results speak for themselves. REAL School Gardens partner schools have seen standardized test scores increased from 12 to 15 percent, especially in science. This is because students are more engaged when learning hands-on lessons outdoors,” Martin said.
RSG opened its learning garden at Beacon Heights Elementary this past fall and will begin constructing them at Mary Harris Mother Jones and Templeton elementary schools in the next month. Martin described the gardens as “dynamic learning environments” where RSG provides training for teachers through lesson plans and modelling to help students get an outdoor, active spin on the curriculum.
“These spaces are more than gardens. They are outdoor classrooms. Students are able to build the strong foundation in math, science and language arts that they’ll need to succeed in school and in life,” she said.
The Capitol Region Food Bank also spoke before the council to request assistance feeding children in need. Currently, they serve hot meals to more than 500 children after school and during the summer. Another organization feeds an additional 788, but they are ceasing operations, according to Capitol Region Food Bank Maryland Regional Director Dario Muralles.
“We’d like to step in and fill this need to ensure that these children don’t go home hungry,” he said.
The food bank would end up with a $150,000 budget shortfall from this expansion, so Muralles asked the council to support them with a non-departmental grant to help make up the deficit.
Other groups requesting money included the Prince George’s African American Museum & Cultural Center ($75,000 to expand their programs to five new schools, among other projects) and the Court Appointed Special Advocate (to provide advocates for more of the 500 children in the foster care system).
The county’s public schools also play a role in uplifting youth, and other residents addressed the board of education budget.
Brenda Barrios has children at Langley Park-McCormick Elementary School and said she supports the school’s proposed budget because “it focus(es) on providing a safe and supportive learning environment.” However, she said more should be done to improve infrastructure in schools like Langley Park-McCormick, which currently uses trailers as classroom space.
“They are short-term solutions. For the sake of the students we have to think long-term. For example, one of the main issues for our PTO is that the building is not big enough for students,” Barrios said.
While the adults in the audience spoke on behalf of the children, youth also spoke for themselves. In addition to the group from Liberty’s Promise, High Point High School graduating senior Jonathan Hernandez told the council in his own words what issues were important to him.
Hernandez said he wanted the county to establish a landlord-tenant office to help mediate disputes between renters and landlords and enforce tenants’ rights. He also said he was concerned the new economic development surrounding the Purple Line would drive up the cost of living and force existing community members to leave.
“One thing I ask is that you put in the same amount of energy in making sure existing communities benefit from the Purple Line, as much as you did in securing the Purple Line,” he said.