Victoria Murray debuts new novel “Never Say Never”

She has received numerous awards including the Golden Pen Award for Best Inspirational Fiction and the Phyllis Wheatley Trailblazer Award for being a pioneer in African American Christian Fiction. In 2008, she won the African American

Literary Award for Best Novel (Too Little, Too Late), and Female Author of the Year.

Now in her latest emotionally charged and inspiring novel, “Never Say Never” a passionate and dangerous love affair threatens to destroy both a marriage and a friendship.

When Miriam’s fireman husband, Chauncey, dies in a school fire, Miriam feels like her life is over. How is she going to raise her three children all by herself? How will she survive without the love of her life? Murray said events following 9/11 inspired her latest novel. “I’d read about the situation in the New York Times and it even became a Law & Order episode. The situations— several of the firemen, who survived the WTC collapse, were leaving their wives for their friends (who died) widows. I wanted to explore that story with my own twists.

Luckily, Miriam’s sister-friend Emily, who is white— and Emily’s husband, Jamal— are there to comfort her. Jamal was Chauncey’s best friend and is happy to step in and help Miriam with the funeral and her children, and he gives her hope that she has a future. However, all the time that they spend together— grieving, sharing and reminiscing—brings the two closer in ways they never planned, and they soon find themselves in the middle of a heated affair.

Lost in the fog of grief and lust, neither is even sure if their passionate affair is real. While Jamal is filled with guilt, sure that this new relationship is all about loss, Miriam believes that she is in love. But then, Emily finds out, and Emily and Jamal have to deal with this woman scorned— and her hunger for revenge. In this tangle of love, longing, and loyalty, can any of the relationships survive?

Victoria Christopher Murray will appear at the Orleans Branch of The Enoch Pratt Free Library located at 1303 Orleans Street in Baltimore on Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 6:30 p.m.

For more information about “Never Say Never,” visit: and

Winning the Battle Against Summer Learning Loss

Research shows poor and minority students who already lag behind their wealthier, white peers are at a higher risk for summer learning loss. Educators have long been aware summer learning loss is a tremendous waste of time, money and academic energy. However, according to a recent study what is most disturbing about summer learning loss is the cumulative academic impact. “Over time, the difference between the summer learning rates of low-income and higher-income students contributes substantially to the achievement gap.”

The Rand Education Foundation funded a report titled “Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Children’s Learning.” This comprehensive study covers a number of factors that should be considered when planning an effective summer learning program, including cost, location, staffing, curriculum development and evaluation methodology.

Of particular interest to parents and guardians looking for ways to stem summer learning loss is the section titled Components of Quality Summer Learning Programs. Topics include smaller class size, differentiated instruction, high-quality instruction, aligned school year and summer curricula, engaging and rigorous programming, maximized participation and attendance, and parental involvement.

Smaller class size is thought to “provide teachers with more time to work individually with students and to create greater opportunities to differentiate instruction based on student needs.

Research has found that small class size is associated with program effectiveness; programs in which class size was capped at 20 students were more effective in producing achievement gains.”

Programs intended to offer individualized instruction were more effective than classes without differentiated lessons. Similarly, experts recommend that teachers work with small learning groups. When faced with large class sizes and a broad range of ability levels, differentiation is a challenge. Nevertheless, every effort should be made to deliver summer programs with smaller class size.

High-quality instruction is another important component of a successful summer program. The report found that giving preference to teachers who are highly motivated and effective during the regular school year was directly related to improved achievement. Also recommended, is to give teachers professional support and guidance to maximize the quality of their instruction.

“Aligning the school-year and summer curricula also may improve the effectiveness of summer programming. This content alignment can take two forms. First, the content of summer programs might be aligned with that of the prior grade to provide remediation on core concepts that students have failed to master.

Second, the content could align to the upcoming school year so that students have previewed core concepts and have a head start toward mastery.” This approach has the potential to not only reduce summer learning loss it could give struggling students an academic advantage in the fall.

According to the report “Many of the experts recommend expanding the curriculum beyond remediation. This recommendation is intended to promote comprehensive programs that go beyond ‘drill-and-kill’ instruction and provide students with (1) expanded learning through innovative instruction that accelerates learning and (2) opportunities for enrichment.

There are two reasons for this recommendation. First, for students to benefit from additional instruction, they must attend. Providing students with interesting, engaging enrichment opportunities is considered a method of promoting attendance in voluntary programs.

Second, some experts also want the instructional methods and experiences of summer to feel different for students and to propel students forward in their learning.”

Student participation and attendance are necessary to improve academic outcomes— students must be active participants in order to benefit from the instruction. “Recruiting students into the program and then maintaining their attendance is critical. Options for recruiting include mandating the program and rewarding participation with incentives such as payments, prizes, parental pledges, parental benefits, and bus passes.

Not surprisingly, programs that encourage and receive strong parental involvement are the most successful at stemming summer learning loss. “There are a number of reasons that involving parents might be an effective component of a summer program. First, gaining parental buy-in for a program should increase enrollment and attendance.

Second, outreach to parents can include information about methods of expanding learning opportunities in the home, which could increase at-home learning as well.”

Jayne Matthews Hopson is an education writer who believes education matters because “only the educated are free.”

Anne Arundel Community Action Agency celebrates volunteers

— The Anne Arundel County Community Action Agency (AACCAA) held its second annual homecoming celebration for its dedicated volunteers at the La Fontaine Bleue in Glen Burnie, Maryland on Friday, May 17, 2013.

For the second year in a row Community Action Agency inducted five honorees for outstanding service and commitment to the Community Action Agency Hall of Fame.

Local Anne Arundel County officials Councilman Peter Smith and Councilmen John Grasso and Carl Snowden were on hand to thank the honorees. Greetings were sent from new Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman, Senator Barbara Mikulski, and Annapolis Mayor Joshua Cohen.

The five inductees honored for their tireless dedication were Helen Chambers, Dr. Eleanor Harris, Shirley A. Harrison, John Greene and Max Ochs. A community partnership award was given to St. Anne’s Parish for their support of the Head Start Obery Court Summer Camp.

Les Stanton, president of the Community Action Agency Board of Directors and keynote speaker for the evening said the agency plays an important role in the lives of Annapolis residents. He thanked the volunteers for their time and dedication. “This year’s five inductees have serviced, committed and dedicated themselves to the community in which they live,” he said.

The event included a silent auction of signed sports memorabilia, fine jewelry and other collectible items. The evening included dinner and dancing. A raffle was also a part of the event. The Harmonic Four performed jazz throughout the evening.

Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones saves lives in Baltimore

— Debbie Freed lost her son in a drowning accident when he was just five years old. When Olympic Gold Medalist Cullen Jones was five, he nearly drowned.

Every minute, more than two people in the United States drown, incidents that have proven to be the leading cause of accidental death in America.

For Freed and Cullen, they share a similar mission.

They wish to prevent as many accidental drownings as possible.

The duo has teamed up with the Connor Cares Foundation, which is named in honor of Freed’s late son, Connor Freed, to give swimming safety lessons to Baltimore City kids.

“The thought of swimming is more of an activity than a life skill, and that’s the first thing we need to do is change that perception,” Jones said during a foundation event April 27 at Callowhill Aquatic Center where he also donated life-saving defibrillators to the city’s aquatic program.

“With my son, it didn’t have to happen,” Freed said. “He was floating under an empty lifeguard chair and one problem in Baltimore is that you have one lifeguard, usually someone 16 years of age, responsible for 50 people and there was no requirement for them to know about defibrillators which could have saved my son’s life,” she said.

Freed started the foundation and its mission is to further the education and training of lifesaving personnel at all public and private pools.

Freed said it was important, especially for inner-city youth.

“Cullen Jones talked about the need for swimming lessons because swimming is recreation and it’s done all the time,” Freed said.

At the event, Jones spoke passionately on such topics as diversity, black heritage, overcoming adversity, his Olympic journey, motivation and the importance of learning to swim.

“The thought of swimming is more of an activity than a life skill, and that’s the first thing we need to do is change that perception,” said Jones, who became the first African American to win a gold medal in the 50 freestyle at the World University Games in 2005.

In 2006, he became the first African American to break a world record in swimming in an olympic contested event at the Pan Pacific Games.

“Every child needs to learn how to swim because children are going to get near the water,” Jones said.

Freed successfully lobbied to have legislation requiring every public pool in the state to have a defibrillator. The governor signed it into law last month.

The Connor Foundation had donated defibrillators throughout the state since its founding in 2006 and its goal is to have a defibrillator at every public and private pool nationwide, Freed said.

The Connor John-James Freed Scholarship Fund has sponsored over 400 children in Arlington Echo’s Drown- proofing Program in Anne Arundel County and the fund has provided an assortment of necessities for underprivileged children that otherwise could not afford the program.

A second scholarship fund, “Not One More Child Drowns,” helps to support the Infant Swimming Resource program, which teaches children 6 months to 6 years old life saving techniques.

A third program is currently underway that will benefit inner-city children in Baltimore.

The new defibrillators from Cullen were a welcome gift, city officials said. “The city of Baltimore is delighted to accept such a vital piece of equipment, which could mean the difference between life and death in an emergency,” said Ernest Burkeen, the city’s Recreation Parks director. “This life-saving equipment will be a vital resource for our aquatics staff and the citizens who use and visit the city’s swim facilities,” he said.

For more information on the foundation, visit