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Forums seek ideas to improve education

Students have changed in the past 50 years, and so have their discipline problems. Teachers in the 1940s had to contend with such behavior as chewing gum, talking, making noise and running in the school hallway. Today's teachers are as likely to face drugs, alcohol, teen pregnancy, suicide and assault as they are a gum-popping teen.

Because schools reflect a changing society, schools must find new ways to teach, new lessons to teach and new attitudes about teaching in order to prepare students for the changing world.

Those challenges are being answered in Citrus County by a laundry list of innovative school programs, members of an educational forum heard last week.

Along with the three R's _ reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic _ schools here are offering programs such as prekindergarten, school day care, AIDS awareness, suicide prevention training, school breakfast and dropout prevention.

The discussion Thursday night was the first in a yearlong series of talks on various topics sponsored by the Alpha Nu Rho Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, an honors fraternity at Central Florida Community College's Lecanto campus.

Under the general theme of "Civilization at Risk: The Challenge of the '90s," the forums aim to bring together community experts to try to solve problems.

First up was the challenge to educators.

Speakers pointed out various changes in society and technology and the region's booming growth as some major problems.

But for Floral City resident Alida Langley, the big problem locally is more basic. Hundreds of adults in Citrus County, she said, simply cannot read.

Mrs. Langley, who teaches adults to read, said the only way to overcome illiteracy is with patience. "We must work with them so that they can obtain the best education possible," she said.

Teachers are working with more children who have emotional, mental or physical handi

caps that affect their ability to learn. In Citrus, the number of such "exceptional" students is growing 17 percent a year, said Barbara Thorpe, head of exceptional student programs for the public schools. But the schools are trying to keep pace through technology and by "keeping an open mind," she said.

"Schools are a reflection of society . . . and there's quite a bit of difference from the days of talking and chewing gum . . . . Therefore, the curriculum has to change quite a bit also," said Mary Bray, coordinator of elementary education for the school system.

The approach to teaching is changing too, prompting the development of classes teaching marketable skills such as computer skills programs and a new push on vocational training.

"We don't even know what the jobs are going to be in the future, the information age is moving so quickly ... so we've got to teach them problem-solving skills," Bray said. "We're teaching students how to learn and not what to learn."

Because of the difficulty finding money to pay for new programs, state education officials have pushed to "do a better job with the resources we have," said Mary Lyons, a Crystal River High School teacher. Lyons talked about new classes put in place this year in Lecanto and Crystal River, which change the focus of education slightly without costing much more.

The applied classes, part of the state's Blueprint for Career Preparation, provide students with practical ways to learn the same basic subjects.

Instead of just teaching grammar, literature and writing, the program allows students to put those skills into practice by writing papers on a career they're interested in, calling and talking to people in that career, then presenting their findings to class, she said.

"They're learning an algebraic formula, then putting it to work on the drafting table," Lyons said.