“He talks to us, he has time for us, he listens to us, he helps us.” These were the responses of 18 fifth-graders at Stults Elementary when asked what they liked most about John Mohl, an AT&T employee who spends a few hours of classroom time each week with students.

Mohl and three others – Al Dumas, Lymon Washington and Elrie Freeman, all Southwestern Bell employees – are participants in a school mentoring program in its second year.

All four are black and all hold management positions. Their goal is to provide positive role models for the schoolchildren, particularly black boys.

“I kept reading and hearing about the need for African-American role models,” says Washington, who initiated the program.

“There are some programs that target inner-city children, but I saw a need in the suburbs.”

Washington lives in Dallas, but his children attend school in the Plano Independent School District.

“I connected with a man who is active in the Urban League and the Stults Parent Teacher League who suggested the school to me,” Washington says.

Out of 278 students at Stults, approximately 60 percent are black.

Each volunteer is assigned to a particular classroom and will stay with that class throughout the year. The men visit the second, third, fifth and sixth grade classes weekly for a few hours, helping the students with their school work and reinforcing the importance of what they are learning.

“These men are terrific,” says Pat Byrd, a fifth grade teacher who works with Mohl. “My students get so excited every time they come.

“Many of these children have no male figure in the home. For those who do, there is little time spent with the children. These men are very encouraging. They contribute much more than they realize,” she says.

According to Dumas, the men’s interaction with the children has changed the way some of the children view black males.

“For some of the kids, the only positive role models have been professional athletes,” he says. “What we’re doing has given them a different perspective of an adult African-American male. For some, this is the first time they’ve had respect for an adult black male,” Dumas says.

The mentoring program will continue at Stults through the end of the school year. Stults principal Mike Thomas hopes the program will continue next year.

“There is a need in any school for positive role models,” Thomas says. “We are very grateful for the time these men have spent at the school, and we hope that the program will continue and grow next year.”

Anyone interested in volunteering for this program can contact Thomas at 503-2440.

Parenting Network Builds Communication with Kids

Wallace Elementary parent Donna Washburn recently taught a classroom full of parents how to express and communicate feelings and emotions to their children. In future classes, she will explain ways to develop self-esteem and offer advice on resolving problems with homework and discipline.

These classes are part of a program called Parenting Network in which volunteers (in most cases, parents) teach parenting skills to other parents. The program was developed by Moss Haven parent Linda Heim.

“In this program, we are trying to reach the parents of at-risk children who, for whatever reason, aren’t involved in their child’s education,” Heim says.

“Our plan is to involve parents from each elementary school in the Lake Highlands area. We want to offer whatever skills are necessary to help those parents learn how to help their children succeed in school and in life.”

“By working with other school parents, we hope they will feel more comfortable about participating at their child’s school,” she says.

Prior to the classes, trained volunteers make home visits to assess the needs of each family and to offer information if social services are needed.

“We want these parents to know that they are not alone,” Heim says. “Virtually every family goes through some sort of crisis, and we want to provide the information needed to help these parents.

“Most importantly, we want them to feel they belong to the Lake Highlands community,” Heim says.

This is the first formal educational program offered to parents in the RISD. The program has established a curriculum and is sponsored by the Texas Association Of School Boards.

So far, efforts have been funded by Heim and other volunteers, with some help from local PTAs. RISD has provided some services and is considering implementing the program district-wide.

Heim wants to get the program up and running by the time school ends in May.

“We want to at least establish contact with some of these parents so that we can keep in touch over the summer, encouraging them to participate next year,” Heim says.

Heim is currently recruiting volunteers. Contact her at 343-9541 for information.

LHHS Wranglers Push and Spin on National TV

The LHHS Wranglers dance troupe has been getting a great deal of attention lately. But the highlight of the group’s year was an appearance on a television special aired nationally on CBS affiliates April 17.

The special, “Hot, Hip and Country,” featured the dancers doing what they do best – spinning, dancing the push, performing acrobatic stunts and line dancing.

The troupe was started by LHHS dance teacher Katha Black earlier this year with 14 girls and one boy. The troupe now consists of 24 girls and 24 boys.

“We started recruiting some of the kids,” Black says. “Once they saw how much fun it was, they were hooked.”

According to Black, the dance troupe doesn’t compete, but regards itself as a professional company.

“We perform about two times a month,” Black says. “We ask whoever we’re performing for to donate something to the troupe. For performances at larger companies, or an agency booking, we ask $250 per performance,” she says.

So far, the troupe has performed for several companies at Southfork Ranch and for the American Banking Association andn Dr Pepper.

The dancers are raising money to buy sound equipment and costumes and to cover travel expenses. They recently gave country-western dance lessons at the school to help with that effort.

Odyssey of the Mind Teams Compete at State Tourney

A LHHS Odyssey of the Mind team returned from the state contest in Lubbock with a first-place trophy for its interpretation of “Dinosaurs.”

That theme was one of four competition categories, which tests students creativity and problem-solving skills.

The six-member team includes Ryan Keller, Mark Tucker, Winston Jackson, Alex Johnson, Dodge Howell and Jessica Keller. The team will advance to the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals June 3-5 at the University of Maryland.

A second Lake Highlands team placed third for its interpretation of “Which End is Up.” The team constructed a balsa wood structure that held 738 pounds, more than any other entry.

Team members include Katherine and Kristie Calkins, Angie Dana, Sherri Pruitt, Freddie Ortiz and Sara Wiles. The team coach is computer applications teacher John Moore.

In addition, senior Katherine Calkins received a $1,000 Odyssey of the Mind Association Scholarship. Calkins was one of three students from Texas to receive the scholarship.

Other Lake Highlands-area schools that placed in the state OM competition are:

Forest Meadow Junior High, eighth, “Pit Stop,” Division III; Skyview Elementary, sixth, “Dinosaurs,” Division II.

Band Club Plans Garage Sale

Mark your calendars for a great shopping event. The Lake Highlands High School Band Club will hold a school-wide garage sale May 15 at the school.

The club is trying to raise $25,000 to help with expenses for band programs at all Lake Highlands-area schools. Budget cuts on the state and local levels necessitated the fund-raising efforts.

Donated items also are needed. For details, contact Penelope Welch at 689-0607.

In other LHHS News, juniors Fouad Bashour, Travis Reagan Brown and James Harmon have been selected by the LHHS faculty to represent the school this summer at Boys’ State in Austin.

Merriman Park Students Take Studies Outdoors

From March 29 to April 2, fifth-graders from Merriman Park Elementary saw soil erosion and natural weathering first-hand.

The 71 students also observed man’s effect on the ecosystem and wrote nature poems. But instead of working in the classroom, they were learning about science and nature at Camp Grady Spruce on Possum Kingdom Lake.

Each day, the students took two nature hikes, studying the soil, topography, vegetation, water and ecosystem. Instructors incorporated language arts into the program by assigning children to write poetry and keep daily camp journals.

The program also left time for recreation, says Kathy Tedder, a fifth grade science teacher at Merriman Park. The students participated in music, arts and crafts, hay rides and an Indian Council, where a Native American told Indian legends as the group gathered around a campfire.

This was the first year for Merriman Park to participate in the educational program offered by Camp Grady Spruce. Cost for the camp was $75 per student. Most students financed the week themselves; scholarships were provided for some.

LH Students Top Regional Science Fair

The following Lake Highlands-are students took top honors at the recent Third Annual North Dallas Regional Science Fair:

Matthew Gelband, Stults Elementary, second place, “Cool crystals”; Julia Lemmon, Moss Haven, honorable mention, “How Dirty is the Air?”; Cristy Liu, Hamilton Park, honorable mention, “Recycled Paper”; Whitney Barab, Skyview, honorable mention, “How Much Water Do We Use?”; Sarah Howell, Wallace Elementary, second place, “light and Its Effects on Colors.”

More than 400 students from Allen, Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Garland, Mesquite, Plano and Richardson schools participated in the fair.

Forest Meadow Students Plan Trip to Russia

Two students from Forest Meadow Junior High will spend part of their summer vacation in Russia. Eighth-graders Cory Elliott and Jessica Roberts have been selected by the People to People Student Ambassador Program to spend 22 days in Russia touring 18 cities.

Their activities will include visiting Russian schools, attending receptions and spending time with Russian families.

In other Forest Meadow news, the school’s seventh and eighth grade math teams placed second and fourth, respectively, in the Greater Dallas Council of Teachers of Mathematics competition held recently in Plano.

Seventh grade team members include Andrew Bell, Beth Boulden and Maki Sakamoto. Eighth grade team members are Trey Cory, Alejandra Posada and Sara Yoon.

Skyview Students Join International Children’s Program in Brazil

Two Skyview Elementary fifth-graders are planning summer vacations in foreign countries, Justin Meyer will be going to Graz, Austria, and Taylor Russell will be going to Sao Paula, Brazil, to participate in the Children’s International Summer Villages (CISV).

CISV was started in the late 1940s by American Doris Allen. Her goal was to make the world a better place after the horrors of World War II.

She organized the summer villages, which are much like summer camps. The difference is that the villages consists of students from around the world who have come together to learn about one another and their cultures.

The children participate in numerous recreational activities, but their main focus is setting the groundwork for world peace and conflict resolution.

CISV has more than 100 chapters in the United States and internationally.