Sometimes life gives us real story problems. When the Maryland Transportation Authority (MTA) started charging students for riding buses after 6 pm, students got a real life lesson in how political and economic decisions can affect their lives. Some had to quit participating in after school activities, others had to walk home or find a ride from friends or family. Non-profit groups which offered after school programs were suddenly having to seek funds to pay bus fare for their students.
This is a prime teaching moment where students can examine this problem using their skills in math, economics, history, politics, social science, and problem solving.
Teachers, here are some things that you can do with your students:
1) Define the scope of the problem.
How many students are affected by the reduced hours of free ridership?
What number/percent of students have had to quit programs?
What number/percent have had to pay and what number/percent have had to walk or get rides?
Have any students been placed in danger in by walking or riding with others?
How much money does MTA need to provide full time ridership for students?
What are the costs to students of missing after school programs?
What are the costs to families which have to pick up their students?
2)Why did the policy change?
3)What are the different perspectives on the cost of providing extended ridership?
Some city council members pointed out that there isn’t an additional cost in allowing students to ride
free on regular bus routes which are already running, especially after 6pm when ridership is lower than peak hours.
An MTA official stated that they are required to recover a third of the cost of rides and that in the past they were simply not counting additional rides by students. He stated that the MTA is facing a budget deficit and isn’t able to allow students to ride for free. Students are already billed at reduced fares.
A student pointed out that her participation in the Merit scholar program enabled her to capture college scholarships and admission offers. Should the cost of the bus ridership be weighed against the opportunities these programs offer to students and their families?
If the school district and the MTA are struggling with tough budgets, are there ways to find alternative funding or savings?
4)Can students provide examples of ways that buses and transportation have been important in racial justice history?
5)What are possible solutions to this problem?
6)Are there ways to express their views to public officials?
a) Call to MTA customer service number
b) Call or write Governor Hogan.
c) Call or write MTA
d) Send photos of their walk home to Governor Hogan and MTA.
e) Their families and friends could vote–research how many eligible voters cast votes in the last election.
f) Could a social funding drive provide funds?
I am posting a series of video clips for you and your students to use as you consider this topic.
Please let me know how this goes and whether you have any questions.
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
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.
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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.
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?