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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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.
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.
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.
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.
Are Baltimore schools starting to pay attention to student
leadership and ideas?
Schools often talk about preparing students for citizenship, but rarely offer students a voice or a seat at the table on issues that affect them.
But if the student leadership conference at Johns Hopkins University is any indication, Dr. Santelises, the CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, is ready to for students to take a larger role in improving their schools. Urging students to speak up about problems in their schools and to be problem solvers, Santelises casts her vote for our students and our future.
And these students, who collaborated thoughtfully and compassionately throughout the day, are ready to step up, speak up, and help solve problems at their schools.