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First lady visits improved school and family center

October 05, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - Maryland's first lady Kendel S. Ehrlich spent about an hour Wednesday hearing about what she called two of Hagerstown's "success stories."

Ehrlich visited Eastern Elementary School and the Washington County Family Center in Hagerstown. She spent about 30 minutes at each before going to Frederick, Md., for a campaign event.

"At one point, that school was in trouble," Ehrlich said of Eastern Elementary.

She was briefed by the school's principal, Lisa Kirkham, about the school's reorganization and test score turnaround.

"Several years ago, Eastern wasn't doing very well," Kirkham said. "It was thought the state might take it over. (We said) before the state takes the school over, we're going to take over ourselves."

Ehrlich asked questions about the reorganization that included more time for teachers to work on professional development. She also was introduced to the school's two student achievement specialists.

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She was given information about the school's improved test scores - scores that were in the 30s, 40s and 50s three years ago but are now in the mid-70s and 80s.

Kirkham told Ehrlich that because of the school's percentage of students receiving free and reduced-price meals there was a stigma about their ability to score well on the tests.

"There was an attitude that these kids just can't learn," Kirkham said.

That has changed, and Ehrlich congratulated the school for its improvements. Ehrlich said she believes that every child can learn.

She also said she was supportive of the school system's focus on professional development.

"It's asking the adults to achieve like the kids achieve," Ehrlich said. "If feels really positive."

The first lady visited a music class, where the students performed a song and dance.

She then went to two fourth-grade classrooms and saw math and science lessons.

Ehrlich also toured the Washington County Family Center, which provides support for families in Washington County with children 4 years old or younger. Ehrlich said her husband, Gov. Robert Ehrlich, has supported funding the family center and similar programs through Friends of the Family, a nonprofit statewide network that establishes and coordinates community-based family support programs.

Friends of the Family receives the money from the state and disburses it among many family support centers, including the one in Hagers- town, said Linda Ramsey, deputy director for the nonprofit. She said over the governor's four years in office, he has supported $20 million in funds to Friends of the Family.

"We understand the importance of what it means to give a child a good early start," Ehrlich said. "We're funding things that are successful."

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