- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2005

Joel Sherman makes his mother worry. “I pray to heaven that he won’t fall in with the wrong crowd, that he won’t grow up to be like mommy,” said Ophia Sherman who added that she “got in trouble” as a teen. “I trust in my heavenly Father that he will not do those things.”

Mrs. Sherman is concerned that Joel won’t graduate high school. She is worried that with guns and violence so prevalent in their rough Northeast neighborhood, he will run with the wrong set of teens and turn out just like them — ignorant and troubled.

But right now, Joel is just a rambunctious, silly 4-year-old who, like all little boys, likes to ignore his mother and climb on things.

Wednesday was Joel’s preschool graduation from the Rosemount Center, a prebirth-through-preschool nonprofit Head Start-based education program. For Joel and his 31 classmates, 90 percent of whom come from low-income homes and 70 percent of whom are from immigrant families, the graduation ceremony meant little.

But for the audience of about 300 parents, friends and teachers, it was a day to look to the future and to hope.

“Today is so important because some of these kids may not ever wear regalia again,” said Marsha Boveja, program director. “Some of these kids may never graduate high school. This may be their only chance to walk.”

Located in Northeast, the Rosemount Center mostly serves the parents and children of low-income families. Although the staff’s focus is on teaching children prekindergarten skills such as the ABCs and color-name recognition, a large amount of time is spent teaching parents the importance of their role in their children’s lives.

“Our program starts as head start to help moms to be the first teacher of their kids,” said Maria Diaz, 40, a teacher at the school. “We always empower the parents to see that their kid’s education is all that it can be.”

Contrary to popular belief, said Amy Donahue, a curriculum director at the school, education isn’t always the child’s choice. It is the parent, she says, who has the power to help the child achieve academically and eventually graduate high school.

“We believe parents are a child’s first and best teacher and that their involvement is the key to any future academic success,” she said.

To encourage parent participation, the school organizes classes and activities for the adults.

“We have a parents council and activities for parents that include workshops on parenting skills and also activities that bring parents to the classroom. We encourage them to come in and be in the classroom,” Ms. Donahue said.

The youngest mom the school has helped was 16 when she came to them, pregnant and worried about her child, Mrs. Diaz said. The majority of mothers are in their early 20s, many of them unmarried.

About half of Rosemount’s students are taught through a home-based program, in which teachers go to the mothers and help them instruct their children.

The rest of the children work at the Rosemount Center, temporarily located at Trinity College on Massachusetts Avenue Northeast while their building is renovated.

During the past year, Rosemount began implementing curriculums received from Share Literacy, a national member-based nonprofit organization that provides books for low-income children.

“The Lion Who Saw Himself in the Water,” by Idries Shah, was given to the school by Share Literacy. The old Afghan folk tale, printed in English and Spanish, is accompanied by a bilingual sing- and read-along tape, allowing the children, none of whom can read yet, to “read” the book on their own.

“The lion book makes him imitate the story,” said Roxanna Requeno, 29, whose son, Walter, 4, graduated Wednesday. “He can have the book at home and read it there, not just at the center.”

Mrs. Requeno also worries that her son will some day not finish high school.

“I don’t worry about him much now, because it is a long way off. But later I worry because of the dangerous environment in D.C., and there are a lot of young people with guns,” she said.

But because of the head start Walter has received through Rosemount, she hopes that he will avoid that path.

“When he comes here to learn, I see some changes,” she said. “I send him here to socialize and so that he can learn to think for himself.”

For the teachers and other Rosemount staff, working with potentially at-risk youth is as rewarding as it is challenging.

“Working with children in general is my passion. Working like this that includes parents and really values the individual child and creating a successful environment for each child is extremely rewarding,” Ms. Donahue said. “Then having events like graduation where I can see it — it just doesn’t get any better.”

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