Tuesday, July 7, 2020
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Baltimore’s Renaissance Academy will continue

A $1 million anonymous donation helped, but the troubled Renaissance Academy in Baltimore will remain open for a few hundred students for at least another year and probably longer, thanks to the love and devotion of a community, the Baltimore Sun reports.

Former Lenox Theatre/Christ Temple Church (Baltimore Heritage / Flickr CC)

The Renaissance Academy came to the attention of news media in 2015, when a 17-year-old student, Ananias Jolley, was stabbed in the heart in a biology classroom at the school in the city’s Druid Heights-Upton neighborhood, less than a mile from where Freddie Gray was arrested and right near Ground Zero of the Baltimore riots. The 18-year-old student who was charged in connection with the stabbing was acquitted by a jury of first-degree murder, but the stain and the pain of that stabbing linger at the school.

On September 2, the US Department of Education announced that it had awarded a Project School Emergency Response to Violence (SERV) grant of more than $350,000 to the Baltimore City Public Schools to assist with the ongoing recovery efforts following the stabbing at the Renaissance Academy.

The grant went toward training and development programs for the staff, hiring a person to make home visits to chronically absent students, and expanding the school’s mentoring program, which consisted last year of four African-American men who agreed to be on call at all times for their mentees, the Washington Post reported. Students have credited their mentors with changing their outlook and helping them reach graduation.

“I’m grateful,” Principal Nikkia Rowe was quoted as saying about the grant, which has gone a long way toward making students feel safe. “Resiliency is defined by a person’s ability to bounce back after a traumatic episode. But what are they bouncing back to? … It has to be better than where we were before.”

Despite that progress, the school system recommended closure earlier this school year. Student, staff, and community feedback, however, was said to have swayed the opinion of school leaders, and Alison Perkins-Cohen, the district’s chief of staff, was expected to recommend the school remain open at a board meeting tomorrow, she told students gathered at the school on Friday.

How the school will use the most recent $1 million influx hasn’t been determined yet, but it was “feedback of the students and the staff coming to the board meetings” that “made the difference,” Ms Perkins-Cohen was quoted as saying. “The way in which students talked about the school, and how they felt about the school, that’s what made the difference. The way that they articulated what they wanted, what was important to them … it made a difference.”

People close to the school have been talking about moving it to a better area, but a declining enrollment and uncertainty in the management of a prospective site kept the school in the Booker T Washington Middle School building for now.

The current enrollment is under 300, according to school officials, and Ms Perkins-Cohen was quoted as saying that the per-pupil funding formula means high schools generally need at least 500 students to get enough money to maintain a full range of academic and other programs.

Most students say the environment in the school feels like family. But still other students lament the lack of programming available at the school, wishing for clubs like robotics, the Sun reported. Programs such as sports, clubs, and fine arts could pay for themselves by attracting more students to the school, but such projections are mere conjectures.

“It’s been a strain for our kids,” the paper quoted Tayler Williams, an English teacher, as saying. “They are really afraid to lose what they built here.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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