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In Maryland, a School-Hospital Swap Yields Program on AIDS

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Ellicott City, Md--For the public-school system and the general hospital in Maryland's suburban Howard County, it was a good, old-fashioned horse trade designed to address a deadly, modern problem.

As its part of the swap, Howard County General Hospital agreed to conduct seminars on acquired immune deficiency syndrome for the district's science teachers. Hospital staff members would also help review curricula used in teaching students about aids.

The school district, for its end of the bargain, would provide classroom space for the hospital's continuing-education programs and stage student choral concerts for hospital patients during the Christmas season.

School officials see the agreement, concluded in August, as a way of keeping up with developments in aids research while strengthening a commitment to4reciprocity in the district's fledgling Educational Partnerships program.

"It's hard for school systems to stay on top of currently emerging medical research," said Michael E. Hickey, superintendent of the Howard County Public Schools. "At the same time, I think education was guilty for a long time of going around with hat in hand and saying, 'We're the poor relation. What can you give us?"'

'Do Something Meaningful'

The hospital partnership is one of 10 such arrangements this year between the school system and local businesses. Directed by Paula Blake Scharff, the partnership program draws on ideas pioneered in Boston and other cities, but tailors them to the needs of a mostly affluent suburb in which some 80 percent of the high-school graduates pursue higher education.

Other Howard County partnerships have yielded such projects8as in-service classes for art teachers. But district officials--and the hospital administrators they worked with--viewed the latest agreement as a chance to tackle a more challenging issue.

"We've done the candy-striper thing and that's fine," Donald Jacobs, the hospital's president, told Ms. Scharff during their first meeting. "But let's do something meaningful."

Mr. Jacobs recalled that, almost at the same time that school officials approached the hospital, a nurse whose children attend school in the community wrote to him suggesting that the hospital take a formal role in promoting aids education.

"Our sense is that school officials are very reluctant to use words such as 'condoms,' and 'anal,' for fear that those terms might be controversial with groups like the pta," Mr. Jacobs said. "I think you can get away with it a little better if you're an outside medical expert."

More than 120 science, biology, and computer-science teachers attended four sessions on aids taught by a hospital nurse trained in community education. The district also videotaped the Aug. 31 seminar for later use by the pta in teaching parents about the disease.

Students' Concern Growing

Alberta Hix, a middle-school science teacher who attended the seminar, said there was a need for teachers who, like herself, do not teach health, to learn more about the disease.

"Quite a few kids ask about aids," she said,"and there's been a great increase in concern over the past six months."

The seminars for science teachers also coincided with the school system's plans to provide formal instruction about the disease this year to students in required health courses at all levels of schooling. Parents who object to the classes may remove their chil4dren from the sessions, according to the superintendent.

In addition, school officials plan to weave discussions about aids and its social and scientific implications into other subject areas, such as high-school science.

But science teachers, unlike trained health educators, have been told to restrict their classroom discussions to basic facts about the disease--and avoid more controversial subjects such as specific sexual practices, homosexuality, and questions of morality.

Howard County's hospital-school partnership could be adapted to other communities and other problems that strain schools' own levels of expertise, district officials said.

"As schools, we're often asked to cover a lot of the social ills of society, whether it's aids, single-parent families, or other problems," said Ms. Scharff. "Many times we are overburdened and we need the support of the rest of the community."

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