From Separate and Unequal: Finding a Path Forward for Baltimore.

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When we talk about transforming Baltimore City Public Schools, we are talking about creating a new path for our children and the future of Baltimore.
We are talking about mending century long divides and segregation which still exist in our schools and our neighborhoods.
We are talking about the white and middle class flight from our city and city schools.

Even if the racial prejudice that created the inequities evaporates, we are still left with the stark disparities and divisions it caused.

If the choice of school integration of the 1950s was whether black students would take a dangerous walk into a better white school, the integration choice today in Baltimore is whether middle class white and black students will return to schools deprived of resources for decades.

As we prepare for the next state legislative session and the next federal administration we will probably hear about school vouchers, equal funding and curriculum. But will these create a viable path toward more effective and integrated schools?

To learn how to build this path, we are starting a conversation.
In this installment, Elizabeth Degi Mount, the Executive Director of the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance (DBFA), talks about how the DBFA is working to support middle class families and schools in Baltimore. Mount talks with an informed candor and passion on the questions of school funding, white flight, equity and racial understanding.

I always joke that when you are pregnant in Baltimore and you are in the middle class, you make two phone calls.
First you call the OB, and then you call the real estate agent.
And that kind of progression, that first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby, then comes Towson,
that’s the school system losing, and the individual schools losing the creativity and the time and you know the opportunity to have another family within their school community. It’s also the system losing overall..

– Elizabeth Degi Mount

video clip on school choice

The video clips from this interview will be posted on the website. I hope that you will enjoy this learning and that you will join this conversation over the next few months. Let me know if you or someone you know would like to be interviewed for this series.

Best wishes,
Shan
410 336 8239

  • IMG_7440s by .

If you want students to learn, let them test their schools.

IMG_7440s by . Every year our schools test students. And every year these tests show that students in Baltimore City Public Schools perform far below state averages on all subjects. If we want better results, we need to invert the equation.

Students should test their schools.

This changes everything.

As students study their school, they become scientists, problem solvers and innovators.
Using scientific tools and protocols, students identify, quantify and analyze factors which affect their health and learning.
Then, they communicate, innovate, and engineer to create improvements in their school and their lives.

Since improvements in the school environment and operations benefit everyone in the building, this work creates a natural collaboration between students, teachers, staff and administrators as they seek solutions together.

• Can students, teachers and custodians find ways to reduce asthma triggers like dust, chemicals and pests?
• How can high schools screen students for vision problems?
• Can we eliminate bus idling at our schools?
• How can we improve student health?

How students test their school

Students use scientific tools and three different protocols to identify, quantify and analyze the health and learning at their school.

Tools for Schools (by EPA) is a checklist to identify asthma triggers at the school including chemicals, dust, pests, mold and bus idling. Early detection and remediation of asthma triggers can create a healthier school environment, lower absenteeism, and reduce maintenance and repair costs at schools. Students could identify whether green cleaning and integrated pest management protocols are being followed at their school and make or recommend improvements.

Operations Report Card (by the Collaborative for High Performing Schools) is a protocol for measuring the environmental factors that are correlated with learning: temperature, humidity, acoustics, lighting, and ventilation. Collecting and analyzing these factors can identify problems which affect student performance and ways to create improvements in these conditions.

Energy Star Portfolio Manager by EPA enables students to benchmark and compare the energy use of their school to similar schools in the area and to calculate the carbon footprint of their school building. Students will identify ways that the school could reduce energy use in a cost-effective manner.

Surveys developed by students will also help identify opportunities to help students succeed. The problems which students list on their anonymous surveys may not have been identified or addressed by administrators. Here are examples of issues we discovered during a project last year.

• Inadequate bus service caused some students to be late for school and others unable to attend after school programs.
• Some students wouldn’t drink water during the day because bathrooms were locked and hard to access.
• Cockroaches and mice were found throughout the building.
• Most classrooms were overheated during warm weather.
• HVAC systems were inadequately maintained.
• In some cases, teachers had refused to provide students access to water.
• Several students had severe vision problems which had not been screened or detected.

Discovering and remedying issues proactively enables schools to improve student performance and satisfaction prior to school climate surveys.

Mentors

Experiment You engages engineers, building and health professionals with students as teachers and mentors. Working with professionals to solve problems creates a bridge between their learning and potential STEM training and careers.

Teacher Training

Experiment You is designed to train teachers in a co-teaching model during in school instruction or after school programs. Teachers learn the skills and protocols for the program without having to attend professional development or certification courses.
Green School Certification and Sustainability
Experiment You can document the environmental work which teachers and students do toward gaining Maryland Green School certification. We can help schools apply for sustainability grants which would fund Experiment You programing and services to the school.

Extensions

In Experiment Us, students would compare the conditions at their school to public and private schools in Baltimore City and surrounding counties. Students would determine whether school conditions are correlated to the racial and economic makeup of the student body at these schools. Students would examine current and proposed funding and policies at the state, local and national levels and make recommendations.

In Building US, students use the knowledge they gained in the Experiment You project to participate in the 21st Century School Building Project and the neighborhood design process. This learning could be integrated into engineering, technology, art, design and work readiness classes.
As an after school project, it would enable students, teachers, community members and building experts to work on design issues before and throughout the public planning process. This could deepen learning, strengthen school partnerships and better inform process of the needs of the clients and the community.

Upstream, Downstream engages students in learning about the environmental issues in their region and neighborhoods. Students would study the watershed for the Baltimore region and the watershed from their school. Students would study the regional air shed, their local air quality, and how proposed policies on air quality could affect their health.

Growing STEM in Baltimore

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As educators and foundations consider how to expand STEM learning in Baltimore, I’d like to offer a few recommendations.

First, define STEM broadly.
When we see STEM as a way of understanding and solving problems of all kinds, it becomes more than a club for kids who like robotics or computer coding.

STEM can help us do everything: it can help us cook better cupcakes, build better skateboards, improve our health, and design better bus routes. When we see that STEM is a tool kit to help us improve our world, it becomes available to everyone and applicable everywhere. Sure, STEM can stay in the science and computer labs, but what if we also let students in on the fact that its also valuable on the athletic field, the board room, the Mayor’s office and the hospital?

Second, use STEM to solve real problems.
I love Frisbee throwing robots as much as anyone, but does the world need another one?

When will we start creating STEM projects designed to solve real problems our students and our community are experiencing?

When are students going to help improve the bus service for their schools, test the water in their nearest stream or find ways to improve their health and learning?

Here are some quick ways to add STEM learning opportunities in Baltimore:

Water quality testing
Michel Anderson, an educator with Blue Water Baltimore is starting to train teachers to test water at their schools and local streams.
Funding to help transport students to their local streams could help students understand the water quality at their local streams. Putting these tests together in an online data base could help students (and everyone else) understand water quality in the Baltimore area watershed.

Benchmark health and learning at schools
Students can benchmark their health (asthma, vision and absenteeism) and the health of the school environment.
Using Tools for Schools from the EPA, students can identify existing asthma triggers like mold, chemicals and pests.
They can test the temperature, humidity, lighting and noise levels in their classrooms with the Operations Report Card by the Collaborative for High Performing Schools (CHPS). Entering their school energy use into Energy Star Portfolio Manager, enables students to compare the energy use at their school to similar schools and to calculate the carbon footprint of their school.

Engage students in the design of their schools and neighborhoods
The 21st Century School Building project, the program to construct or renovate Baltimore City Public Schools, is a perfect for STEM learning.
Students should be designing CAD drawings of potential school designs, talking with architects and construction managers, calculating construction costs and evaluating bus and walking routes.
But so far, students and their teachers are barely consulted in the design and citizen involvement process.
Schools could integrate this learning into their curriculum and engaging the citizen involvement processes with after school programs where parents, teachers, citizens and students work through these important decisions.

Revive Saturday Science
Don Thomas, an astronaut, ran a very successful Saturday morning program at Towson University where students could see and experience science programs which ranged from space exploration to crime scene investigations; from wildlife studies in the Amazon to pyrotechnics. This program was free and would fill an auditorium with students and parents interested in learning. After the program, students could sign up for a short lab experience.

Reviving the program (preferably with Thomas) would give Baltimore area students a great way to experience science.
If a local university isn’t willing to sponsor this program, perhaps it could be run as a collaborative with UMBC, Johns Hopkins, Loyola, Morgan and Towson taking turn presenting programs. This could be a great recruiting opportunity for these institutions as they show off their professors to their prospective students.

Leading to Leadership

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Are Baltimore schools starting to pay attention to student
leadership and ideas?

It may be too early to tell. It is one thing to ask students to speak up.
It is another to listen.

But if the student leadership conference at Johns Hopkins University is any indication, students at Baltimore schools are willing to take on a larger role in changing their schools and their world.

Schools have traditionally been run as a top down dictatorship with students sharing the last rung of powerlessness with their parents.

So this invitation for students to express their voice and solve problems at their schools is encouraging.

Is it possible that this period of deep political and social conflict is the perfect moment to build leaders who actually solve problems?

Experiment You

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How Students Can Improve Their Health And Learning.

 

Our schools constantly test our students to measure their achievement.

But if we want to improve student achievement, it’s time for students to test their schools.

 

  • Are classrooms too hot or too cold?
  • Are pest and mold problems causing asthma attacks and absences?
  • Are students getting enough exercise and water?
  • Do students need glasses to read the board and their textbooks?
  • Does poor bus service cause students to be late or miss school?
  • Are lunches nutritious and palatable?
  • Why are so many students still failing to succeed in math and science?

 

Challenging students to investigate and improve their health and learning engages them in a meaningful, real world scientific inquiry.

It is a perfect fit for STEM, Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core curriculum. 

Students get hands on training for careers in health, building, teaching, and social science.

 

Students see how they can use science and innovation to improve their lives.

 

Experiment You  engages students as scientists and problem solvers in a very real and important experiment: how can we use our learning and innovation to improve our lives?

As a STEM based inquiry, students use surveys, observations, and tools to benchmark their health and the health and learning conditions at their school.

 

Surveys
Students learn to create and use surveys to gain information on student health and school conditions.

How many students have missed school because of asthma related issues? What classrooms are too hot or cold? Where have students seen mold, mice or cockroaches? Are students getting enough healthy foods, sleep and exercise?

 

Tools for Schools
Using the Tools for Schools walk through assessment from EPA, students discover and report asthma triggers at their schools.

 

Operations Report Card
Using the Operations report card protocol from the Collaboration for High Performing Schools (CHPS) students collect and analyze data on the temperature, humidity, air quality, lighting and acoustics.

 

Energy Star Portfolio Manager
Using the Energy Star Portfolio Manager, students can benchmark the carbon footprint of their school and compare the energy use of their school to similar schools in their area. Students identify ways to eliminate energy waste at their school.Solving for …us.
After collecting this data, students are challenged to create improvements in each of these areas. Finding ways to improve their health and the conditions at their school engages students in real world problem solving at ground level.

 

  • Can cross ventilation reduce excessive heat in classrooms or does the air conditioning need to be fixed?
  • Why are the outdoor security lights on in the daytime?
  • How can students help reduce the amount of pests in the school without chemicals?
  • How can we reduce asthma related absences at our school?
  • Is there an easy way to screen students for vision problems?

 

Engaging students in solving problems which they face,

challenges them to take control and responsibility of their own learning and futures.

 

Every school is a laboratory and every student is an experiment.

The question is whether our students will remain lab rats running a maze, or whether they become scientists and innovators, using their learning to improve their conditions and outcomes. This is rich learning that grows the confidence and competence of our students. It is time.
-Shan