Threading Baltimore Together

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Sarah Hemminger is out to save Baltimore the hard way–with the love and care of strangers. 

Since founding Thread in 2004 with her husband, Ryan, the program has been surrounding failing students with mentors to support them through their high school and college years.   

Selecting their students from the bottom 25 percent of their freshman class, few would expect these students to succeed.  But they do. 

Thread reports that 91 percent of the students in Thread for over five years graduated from high school, and 90 percent were accepted to college.

In a district where 30 percent of students fail to graduate, this success with students at the bottom quarter of their freshman class isn’t surprising.  It’s astounding. 

How do they create this success?

“It’s practicing change,” Hemminger states.

“We have found that the key to our young people turning into resilient self-motivated and responsible citizens is that the adults have to model that change.  Success is not just defined as your student succeeding–it’s as your own growth.  If we say we are going to take them to school, we have to show up and take them to school and be responsible ourselves.”

“If we want our students to not give up on themselves, we have to not give up on them.  And when we show up it’s not just about showing up.  It’s how we show up.  Are we vulnerable, do we actually share our challenges and our burdens with them?”

“Relationships are really hard,” Hemminger intones.  “They are not a quick fix, they’re messy, they take time, you have to pay attention to them and they don’t always feel great.”

But they work.

Edward Blackstone, a Thread student, said “When you walk in you have certain expectations.  The sooner you let go of those expectations and accept that person for what they are, and what they define as success, then you can walk out with a better relationship for both of you.” said Blackstone.

By the time his first mentor, a white straight A student, met him, Blackstone said he had dropped out of high school and then dropped out of college.  Blackstone challenged his mentor, wondering if her definition of success was more important than her love for him. It wasn’t.

 “The biggest thing that (she) did for me to grow as a person is that she said, “I will not force you to go to college.  If this is something that you want to do, I will help you along the way, but I will not do it for you.”

“That was the biggest motivating factor for me, because it made me get myself back in college.” Blackstone said.

The power of Thread, isn’t just academic success, but the personal and relational growth between the students and mentors as they redefine their own understandings and expectations through their care for each other.

We must remember, Hemminger says, “It is not just children living in poverty who need these deep interpersonal bonds.  We all do.” 

Can these supportive relationships bring together a city so long divided by race, religion and class?

We may soon find out.  With a goal of mentoring five percent of the students in Baltimore High Schools, Thread is putting their audacious success onto a fast track for more. 

Interested in joining? 

Get Involved

When School Budgets Don’t Add Up To Success

posted in: Blog, Home, Multimedia, News and Issues | 0

A recent article in the Baltimore Sun, Small schools, high salaries behind district’s budget gap, pointed to higher costs of small schools and relatively higher costs of salaries for teachers in the district as the cause of the budget cuts and layoffs at Baltimore City Public Schools. This analysis demonstrates three major errors in how we develop school budgets.

First, we only calculate the cost side of the budget sheet.                                                                                                                                                                      In pointing out the slightly higher costs of small schools, the benefits of the close-knit school, high attendance rates and few suspensions are mentioned, but they are not assigned a value on the other side of the ledger.   If we don’t value high attendance and good school culture, what is it that we do value?  This cost-only accounting pervades our educational decisions, shuttering schools and programs that have real value for students and their success.

Second, comparing urban school district to suburban districts ignores the stark differences in their challenges.  This false comparison is invoked to justify giving urban districts fewer dollars than they need to help their students to succeed.  Can we sit every child in Maryland in a desk in a classroom for about the same price?  Sure.  But if we want our children in impoverished, highly segregated and unequal schools to achieve at levels we expect at suburban schools, we need different strategies and different budgets.

Third, we produce budgets that are unattached to goals.  A budget should be more than an apportionment of funds.  It should be an allocation of funds to achieve meaningful social goals. If we want to escape our legacy of failures in urban education, we have to invest in helping students escape the legacy of poverty and segregation.  We need to throw out the flawed accounting that perpetuates failure and invest in the education our children deserve. The waste in urban education is not small schools or teacher salaries. It’s that too many of our children are not prepared to reach their full potentials.

Students and teachers are working heroically to beat the odds against our streets. Is it too much to ask that we invest in them with the same eagerness that we invest in hotels, stadiums and development projects? This is the investment that will signal the comeback for Baltimore.


Science out of the Silos

posted in: Blog, Healthy Schools, STEM | 0

social working fin by .



 The New Scientific Breakthroughs:

            How and Who


When we list our most important scientific breakthroughs, we usually note the discoveries of new evidence: ancient bones, DNA, black holes and medicines. 

But could our biggest recent breakthrough be not what have found, but how we collaborate in our research?

There is a new paradigm for scientific research that could change how we study, what we study, and whether our research is useful in solving the problems it identified. 

Community research grants offer communities and organizations a collaborative role in researching health and social problems, training in scientific investigations, and a shared communication of the results and implications of these studies. For communities, which have never been offered a role in research studies other than unpaid lab rats, this is a big deal.

These partnerships can help communities develop research and design interventions to improve the lives of their members and clients. For scientists, these partnerships offer keen insights into the social, economic and cultural factors which affect these issues and ongoing access to these programs for follow up research opportunities which can test the effect of interventions as they are implemented over time.

My favorite opportunity for these grants is at K-12 schools where students and college researchers could collaborate on issues which affect the health and learning of students, their families and communities.  These collaborations could help enrich the science curriculum, develop mentoring partnerships that create bridges to colleges, and help schools become a locus for building healthy communities.

I love science and scientists, but I will not miss the high holy research design where lab coats and equipment appeared and disappeared without a trace save for a mention in a scientific journal or conference. The job of science is to create better understanding and better outcomes. When it descends from the tower of science, it is a valuable tool of positive social change.

I’m excited to see what we will learn, when we are learning together.