Making sure that children, and especially children experiencing poverty, have the opportunity to fully develop to their innate potential is one of the most critical challenges facing our communities and city.
For as hard as our teachers work, for all of the resources we dedicate to our schools, poverty undercuts all that we are trying to accomplish. Thousands of Baltimore students experience homelessness. Many more experience mid-year evictions and moves, disrupting their routine and ability to attend school. Even more may not be confident that their house will have heat or electricity when they return home. And even more arrive at school hungry. For what it’s worth, I know all of this not because I read it in an article in the Post. I know this because I’m deeply connected to the school community in Highlandtown and I receive many of those phone calls asking for help. I know this because I work alongside these kids in our mentoring program and our summer camp, I pull them aside on the street or on the basketball court to check in with their home life, I try to help them find jobs and I support them when they come to the church crying because they’re pregnant or they’ve been kicked out of the house.
The best teachers in the world can’t fix all the problems of the city, which fall most heavily on our young people. Even here, in one of the wealthiest areas of Baltimore, our school students disproportionately live in poverty. Here are the free and reduced lunch percentages at some of our schools. Commodore John Rodgers: 94%; Hampstead Hill: 74%; Highlandtown #215: 95%; Highlandtown #237: 90%; John Ruhrah: 91%; Patterson Park: 81%; Wolfe Street: 96%. And, despite that, some of our schools are among the best in the entire city.
But we can do more. The city can do more, by expanding the Community Schools initiative so that schools have the social workers and organizers they need, so that schools have more robust after school and summer programs, so that food pantries and housing stability assistance is made available, and so that more local volunteers and businesses support their schools.
And we as residents can and need to do more. We can volunteer during the school day or after school; we can support weekend sports leagues and art programs; we can volunteer as a mentor; we can forge partnerships with local businesses and community associations; we can donate our money; we can advocate for our schools in City Hall and in Annapolis. Whatever our own household may be like, we need to cultivate a sense of responsibility for our neighborhood children and our neighborhood schools. We are connected to these kids–their success is our success. Their failure is our failure. We’re in this together.