AIKEN - A shortage of male teachers in Aiken County schools translates into a lack of important role models for children, local educators say.
Now a new program is seeking to offset that shortage and give children in elementary schools - particularly those from single-parent families - someone to look up to.
Under the direction of Beverley Clyburn, guidance director at South Aiken High School, the Genesis project seeks to attract male teacher assistants who would spend a maximum of four hours each week in Aiken County schools.
Only 15 percent, or about 214 of Aiken County's approximately 1,400 teachers, are men, according to the State Department of Education's annual rankings report for 1996.
Of those, about 26 teach in the county's elementary schools, where organizers of the program say they are needed the most.
"When they get here, (high school) kids already are set in their ways, the pattern's already been set for bad study habits and bad behavior," Mrs. Clyburn said. "So one of the things we want to try is reaching them at about the third-grade level."
Mrs. Clyburn said the program is particularly interested in attracting black men. Black students continue to score lowest on standardized achievement tests and the State Department of Education in 1993 formed a special task force to address problems of black male students.
The task force's 1993 study reported that about 18 percent of elementary teachers in the state were black. Of those, 21 percent were men.
The state's population is about 30 percent black.
But white men won't be turned away, Mrs. Clyburn said.
"We really don't care. We just want to get males in the schools," Ms. Clyburn said.
Organizers said they are not knocking the female teacher, but say a child who lives solely with his mother and then attends class all day with a female teacher typically reacts more enthusiastically when a man enters the classroom.
An informational meeting and training session for teaching assistants will be conducted at South Aiken on Saturday. Registration begins at 8 a.m.
The training will be conducted by Spencer H. Holland, founder of the Project 2000 program, a similar program that placed male role models in Washington schools in the fall of 1988.
Teacher assistants would volunteer their time and not necessarily be responsible for tutoring. Coordinators are looking for men ages 19 and up.
"We'll take them (age) 75 as a grandfather figure," Mrs. Clyburn said. "A grandfather could teach them about fishing or any other lost arts that are no longer around."
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