The Brody Bunch – Public Schools Need Our Support

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Public School Stats and A Mother’s Intuition

I am not the authority on public school education and statistical data, but I am an active mom in a Baltimore City Public school. And, sometimes, a Mom’s intuition and observations deserves a voice at the table along with the statistical data, experts and politicians.

Yesterday, I stood in line with my student vying for a seat through a competitive placement exam in a respected Baltimore City Public High School.  There are more students than available seats for the program. Yet, all students do not have many options for a safe and meaningful public education. The pickings are slim.  Every student and parent in that line only wants the best academic opportunity.  Yet, educators, parents, politicians and students know that the system is broken.

It was inspiring to see many motivated students hoping to earn a seat for their middle school and high school career. It’s also sad that all of the qualified students won’t have the same educational opportunities due to space limitations and funding inequities. Imagine if Trump held the budget hostage for educational funding instead of his Wall.

Joining The Public School Journey & Being Involved Opened My Eyes and My Heart to the Academic Injustices

After making a difficult financial decision to move our four children out of private school, one of which I am still very involved, we have been engaged in the public school classrooms, and on local and state levels with funding issues and policy.  Our children are also engaged with policy issues in their school and within the school system.

In Baltimore City Public Middle schools, students take classes based on “tracks”. The tracks I am most familiar with are: General Education, Advanced Academics, and Ingenuity which favors a heavy math and science curriculum.  

In Baltimore City Public High Schools, due to poorly performing schools, students are ranked and based upon their composite scores, they hope to secure a seat into one of the few and very coveted public high schools.  This process is known as the School Choice program.

One benefit of the School Choice program is that students are able to leave their failing neighborhood schools. Students traveling outside of their neighborhood schools creates opportunities for students and their families to meet people from different social, racial and economic backgrounds. Conversations change when engaging with people from different experiences and perspectives. A downside to School Choice is that children with lower academic success often remain in under-served schools lacking basic resources, reliable technology, and don’t have enough advocates helping them to level the playing field.  School Choice segregates educational opportunities.

When my family unexpectedly began our Public School journey, I noticed that in Middle School, white children were the majority of Advanced Academics and Ingenuity track students. And, black children comprised the majority of the General Education track.  I also noticed that the majority of disciplinary problems appeared in the General Education track, or disproportionately with the black students. These were red flags to me. These inequities pull at my heart strings. The tracks and discipline are now widely discussed, challenged and being reworked.  Change takes time.  We are in a segregated academic environment in an integrated urban community.  In our particular school, we have very talented, caring and devoted teachers and administrators. They go way above and beyond their job descriptions and Union contracts.

My family has also entered the high school choice process. Students in the Advanced Academics program and Ingenuity program have heavier weights in the formula applied to their composite scores which is most helpful to earning and securing a seat in a better high school. And, our students have had opportunities for extra credit along the way “if you donate school supplies, you will get 10% added to a grade” or “yes, you can redo a project” etc.  Along with better grades comes better funding for the individual schools, and better opportunities for specific kids. An academically motivated student with a parent able to kick in more money classroom, both helps an underpaid teacher not take money out of her pocket, and creates unfair advantages to student composite scores.  This is another inequity in public education.  Because the Choice program is so competitive, each additional percentage in the composite score does make a difference.

Supplementing Athletics and Arts, Not All Kids Can Easily Participate

My kids work very hard.  Their academics are a value to them. We are so proud of them. Though because of all of the State mandated testing, students miss essential programming such as meaningful recess or consistent gym and art classes. With overcrowding and scheduling challenges there is never enough time for all students to engage in the arts and gym which has scientifically been proven to support and improve learning skills. Arts and athletics are important to learning. 

My family spends a lot of time and money on extracurricular activities including arts and athletics.  Most families require at least a dual income. With the rise of urban crime, kids don’t go outside and play like we used to.  Everything is an organized paid to play activity, which causes more inequities along the way for those who can pay and those who can’t. I volunteer on a low level to help raise funds to offset baseball fees for families needing financial aid. I can’t imagine a family swinging all of the fees for all essential needs plus supplemental programs and planning ahead for college and retirement in this economy compounded with rising healthcare costs, increasing electricity bills and the the high costs of healthy eating.  We should all to do our part and more.

Families Across The City Hope for a Better Educational Opportunity – And Spaces are Limited, but Desire is Not

Our financial futures begin with an education.  Better educated people have more opportunities.  Yesterday, on a Saturday, my son had a 7:30 AM start time to take a placement test for a public high school accelerated program.  To earn a seat, a student needs high grades and takes a difficult placement test.  Perhaps there are 400 seats for incoming freshmen, City wide.  Maybe there were a thousand or more students from all across our City lining around the school waiting to be processed to take the exam for both middle school and high school accelerated math and science. This exam is for rising 6th graders and rising 9th graders, along with students in higher grades, bored in their academic track, hoping to secure a rare open seat in the program.  

I asked my student if he wanted me to drop him off or come in.  He asked me to come in, I know my blessings.  I enjoyed visiting with other waiting parents I know and chit chatted with everyone around me.  I asked strangers, “what part of the City are you from?”  They named public schools I have never heard of, in neighborhoods that I only know by the landmarks such as “near Johns Hopkins Hospital” or “near Lexington Market”.  I made my life in my neighborhood where my kids go to school, where we live, and where I work, all within 3 miles.  I am civic minded and believe that it is our job to support ALL of our kids in the City, because if they succeed, we ALL succeed.  

And, as I stood in this incredibly long line (think longer than a highly contested election day line), each family only wants the same thing: a safe and meaningful education for their child. All students should be afforded this basic right in any public school.  This should not be a privilege. Though, in our public education system, it is a privilege for a few.

Public School Needs an Overhaul like the Civil Rights Movement, and it All Starts with Us. We need a Revolution.

Competition is great, but not when it comes to a challenging and safe education. It is long overdue to demand an overhaul to the Public School system much like that of the Civil Rights Movement.  

Perhaps many of the school issues stem from issues not yet resolved within the Civil Rights work that we are still fighting for today.  Nonetheless, every student should have the opportunity for a strong, challenging and safe education. Education is the future for ALL of us.

We all need to do our part and a little more. Acknowledge that the schools have become more than a place to read and write – schools are providing basic healthcare, food for the hungry, social services for the homeless, homework help for those needing support, childcare for parents running late from work and more. The schools are so overburdened. Teachers are underpaid and under appreciated. The broken system can be fixed.

Help. Join a committee. Write a legislator. Ask your Principal how you can help.  Volunteer in a school.  Be informed.  Donate your time and talents. Give a little extra to your school.  Demand that your kid knows that school is his or her job. Know your kid’s teachers. Show up to PTA meetings. Email your teachers gratitude. Question authority. Attend school events, meetings and performances. Use your voice.  Ask questions. There are more of us that can do something to help. It all adds up. We all have a horse in this race.  You can start by looking up your local public school, contacting them, and asking what you can do to help. The Brody Bunch supports Public School, we have celebrated more successes than not.  Yet, ALL kids should have equal opportunities within the public school system.

The Brody Bunch – Living in Two Baltimore Cities

Living in Two Baltimores

I have always known that I live in two Baltimore Cities.  Yesterday, I spent the morning surrounded by friends in their warm homes, visiting, talking about social and political issues, sharing laughs and coffee.  In the afternoon while patronizing a closing Target store, in West Baltimore, I had another smack in the face of reality regarding the other Baltimore City, the one that makes national news.  The one where surrounding counties are afraid to let their children visit on school sanctioned field trips. The one where kids are in schools without heat. The one with the high murder rate. I ended my evening at a party with like minded civic friends in a warm home in the comfortable Baltimore City where we talked about our first world problems, our kids, hopes and the reality of the other Baltimore City.

My family and friends live in generally safe Baltimore City neighborhoods and send our children to an outstanding Baltimore City public school. Our school has engaged parents, devoted teachers and an administration supporting the needs of teachers and families. Not too far from our part of the City, we live relatively close to some of Baltimore City’s most dangerous neighborhoods.  We are geographically near where Freddie Gray lived and died. We aren’t far from where a Baltimore City Police officer was murdered and there is still no suspect several weeks later.  These are the two Baltimore Cities that I know.

School District Closed, a Free Day and the Universe

Our entire school district has been home from school because one third of Baltimore City Public schools do not have heat.  My children, in a school with heat, did not have educational instruction on Friday, because the whole system shut down for the third of schools without heat.

The Mayor announced that they were hopeful that all schools would have heat restored over the weekend and hopefully school will open on Monday.  The statement was carefully worded. This is a decades old problem, with the goal of being fixed within 48 hours.  Mind you, this problem hit the fan after it was announced on Twitter that all schools were checked for heat prior to the snow… then came the viral influx of photos showing classroom thermostats at 40 degrees and kids wearing hats and coats inside many Baltimore City Public Schools.  In response to public pressure, schools with and without heat system wide were shut down. And, this also meant that many children receiving free food were without food until emergency plans were executed. There were problems with locations and quality.  Schools are serving the needs beyond academic instruction.

On their day off from school, my children had the luxury of ice skating in the City, going to lunch in the City, and visiting the National Aquarium in the City.  I was at work, in the the City, whereas my employer understands that I am a working mom and my kids need to check in with me from time to time when they are not in school.  

The Universe Corrects Itself

With last minute planning, three of my four kids slept at their friends’ houses after their excursions.  The next morning, I volunteered to pick kids up from various sleepovers and take their friends back home, too. I complained to the other moms via text: “Karma got me, I will bring home 5 kids from sleepovers, that should be a great car ride.”  One mom replied to my snarky mom attitude, “You don’t have our sympathy, we took 3 of your kids last night and ‘the Universe corrects itself.’” Remember, the Universe corrects itself.

Throughout the post sleepover morning pickups, I lingered at each stop and we had meaningful conversations.  We talked about volunteer initiatives for both adults and kids. We talked with older siblings attending Baltimore City Public schools and why they don’t use the City’s unreliable public transportation.  We talked about kid pranks.  We covered a lot. Though at the third house visit, while acknowledging that I was wearing my daughter’s warm fleece pants, it was stated, by my daughter, that the warm fleece pants were actually pajama pants. All of the families we visited were still in their pjs, that’s how you know you have good friends.

Knowing I am Privileged. Toilet Paper is Toilet Paper.

I finished with the sleepover carpools and dropped off my daughter for a free arts program at the inspiring Baltimore School for the Arts, a gem within the Baltimore City Public School system.  Then, I went to a closing Target in West Baltimore at Mondawmin Mall.  This was the site as seen on the national media when Baltimore was looted and rioted in 2015 in response to Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody.  In my small part to show support for this part of the City, I began shopping here.  I felt that if there were more sales, there would be more jobs.  

In this part of town with high crime and without many community resources, I patron the Target and Marshalls stores.  I am often criticized by people I know, outside of the City, for being in this part of Baltimore. They are right, this is a high crime area.  And, I am right, this is an area with kind people needing an influx of support.  I know I am privileged.  I am white.  I have an engaged family. I am a college graduate. My husband and I are employed professionals.  So what if I look different than the majority of the clientele? Toilet paper is toilet paper. The customers are generally pleasant, and the employees are always helpful and I sense that they have a high level of pride in their work. Frankly, this is not the consistent employee vibe that I have felt at other Target locations. Nonetheless, this Target, corporately known as Baltimore West, is closing in a few weeks.  The pharmacy already closed.  

Expired Dairy Representing Other Social Issues

I went to Target, with hopes of a closing sale (there were none) and I needed sour cream. I rarely check expiration dates, but I noticed many expired products on the shelves from December 2017.  Of course there are health concerns, but my outraged feelings weren’t about expired dairy, per se.  The expired yogurts represent a plethora of issues:  this area is under served, a corporation built here under the auspices of tax incentives and they are leaving.  This area has struggling public schools, people need better access to healthcare, there is a trust issue between the police and the citizens, public transportation is unreliable and violent crime is high.  Target responded to my tweet calling them out about their closing and having expired dairy with: blah, blah, blah … “after careful consideration of the long term financial performance ….  is seeing several years of decreasing profitability.” So, I believe that the lesson learned is that Baltimore City needs to have a prenup with corporations receiving tax incentives.  For example, if the corporation stays for x amount of years, they keep x amount of the incentive. However, for any reason that the corporation needs to leave, we get a prorated amount of the incentive back so that we can invest in other corporations or community programming.  

I spoke to a young employee who began removing the expired dairy that I was photographing.  I asked him if Target was helping him to relocate to a different Target for other opportunities.  He shook his head in the negative and said, “I live 2-3 blocks from here, so I’m not sure how I could get to a different Target to work.”  I shared this story on a Facebook thread and many people, suggested that he takes a bus, on the surface, of course that makes sense.  But, the bus may not be affordable and is unreliable to another Target. This young man didn’t suggest that he was finished with working, period.  There are other places in the area where he can try and secure a job. We do not know the realities of this young man. I like working in the community where I live, it’s convenient, I understand that. I wished this employee the best for him and his family, he appeared thankful for our impromptu chat.  And, I walked out the food aisles telling everyone to check the expiration dates that there is a lot of expired food on the shelves.  One customer was helping me photograph the inventory.

Driving Around Inspires Me to be Part of the Solution

After picking up my daughter from her vocal class, we intended to drive two minutes to my favorite Italian market.  This family owned market reminds me of the Sal’s Pizza Shop in Spike Lee’s movie “Do the Right Thing.”  This market, owned by an Italian Family has been in business for more than 100 years and is located in an impoverished black community.  The community left this business alone during the recent riots, or the uprising.  I was so distracted by my beautiful morning with friends in my Baltimore versus my errand time in the other Baltimore. But, I got a fire in my belly and I got really lost on the two minute drive.  

With my daughter, we drove through some of the most dangerous areas of West Baltimore filled with boarded up properties and subsidized housing. It was five degrees so many people weren’t out.  I didn’t feel sad for this community, rather I felt empowered.  I felt renewed to be a voice, be part of the action and be part of the solutions.  I know people, we can are the seeds in the community to continue to bridge the Baltimore Cities that I know.

In less than a year, my children have joined me as we marched in Washington, Annapolis and protested at City Hall in Baltimore.  Our voices were heard on federal, state and local issues.  Clearly, we haven’t scratched the surface and have to keep up the good fight.

Good Intentions, Failure to see the Issues

Later in the day, I received an email from a prestigious sports organization even though my son no longer plays for them.  They outreached to their sports community seeking donations of gently worn warm hats and coats for the students of Baltimore City Public Schools.  The message went on to say that “FORTUNATELY a lot of schools are closing but that won’t be the case everyday with cold temps continuing over the next few weeks.”  I hit reply, thanked them for their lovely hat drive and asked them to use their resources to contact our local and state leaders so that my children with heat in their school, along with the children in buildings without heat, can’t get an education if schools close, and thanks for the scarves. There was no follow up and with good intentions, privilege gone awry.

Do Your Part and A Little More

My night ended at a friend’s house party in the City.  This family has a son who was my oldest son’s first friend when my children transferred out of their private school into their current Baltimore City public school.  I was surrounded by my children’s classmates’ parents, now my friends for several years. I told many about my day in two Baltimore Cities.  These are the people attending PTA meetings, Board of Education hearings, candidate forums and Little League games. This part of Baltimore City is very aware that we need to do our part and more.

First You Need A Lemon, Then the Universe Corrects Itself

I read another Facebook exchange between two of my friends.  One suggested that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.  I live by that mantra.  Yet, a different friend replied, “first you need a lemon.”  

I am a native of Baltimore.  I love Baltimore City.  I live here, I work here, our kids go to Baltimore City Public Schools.  I continue growing with friends I have met through the Brody Bunch’s village and people we meet along the way trying to make things right for our City. If problems in the City don’t improve, they will sprawl into the counties because that is how crime works.  But out of humanity, pick an issue, help and DEMAND action. I want to find the lemons, share the lemons, and smile when “the universe corrects itself.”

The Brody Bunch – Happy New Year with Love

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Happy New Year from the Miracle on 34th Street in Baltimore.

Winter Break Through the New Year

Winter break 2017 is about to come to an end. I am pretty ready to resume the Brody Bunch’s hamster wheel of school and extracurricular activities, family pressures, and it all restarts tomorrow. I don’t feel too revived from the break. I live and survive in chaos, and on the first day of the New Year, I have enjoyed being at home in PJs, writing, binge watching bad TV with my daughter, doing a puzzle and not being anywhere, until a New Year’s Day birthday dinner later tonight, before the first day back to school – timing is not our specialty.

Traditions, Disappointments and Surviving on Coffee, Dry Shampoo and Thermal Underwear

Over the holiday season, I navigated our family calendar with traditional things that the Brody Bunch, rather I, like to do over winter break. Our festivities begin the week prior to Thanksgiving with two birthdays and conclude on January 2nd with another birthday. I try to do it all, Monument lighting, parades, a trip to Pittsburgh, 8 crazy nights of Chanukah, Christmas in New York, train gardens, “The Nutcracker,” art museums, high tea, lights at the Miracle on 34th Street in Baltimore and more. I felt disappointment when the weather didn’t cooperate, it has been so cold. We canceled our day trip to DC. Bagged an NFL game. We saw three movies in the movie theater, which is not my favorite activity, I like being out and about and not sitting still. Surprisingly, all of the movies were great. Our kids felt disappointment when we didn’t host their friends for big dinners. We navigated our kids’ heightened social desires whereas I was a professional chauffeur but without their sports gear.  We didn’t watch my favorite Christmas classic movies. I promised ice skating, but not all of the kids went. I said we would go bowling and we couldn’t get lanes. I said we would go to a jump zone place, and I got my days of the weeks messed up, I never knew what day it was, that is winter break.  I survived on coffee, dry shampoo and thermal underwear as pants.

This winter has been tiring, cold and hard. I struggled with my kids pushing limits and my own desire to keep traditions on the calendar – not all of their plans included me. That was my own growing pain for the winter combined with four kids going through puberty at once.  

Resolutions Turned into Bucket Lists

As the New Year approached, one of my kids scrapped resolutions for bucket list items. WOW, bucket list items, this is brilliant.  My own simple goal is just to put the Chanukah decorations away before going back to work, I still have about 48 hours. Everything from standard to extravagant made their bucket lists: exercise goals to catching a foul ball at Camden Yards. We reflected on being better people.

Ready for the Hamster Wheel in the New Year with Memories, a Bucket List and LOVE

My mommy bucket overflowed last night at 11:49, PM, on December 31, 2017. One of my kids texted a sibling, and I received the notification on my phone, “I love you! Goodnight.” All of my planning is so that the Brody Bunch has good memories.  Their growing up is tough, for me. But, this simple text, highlights that the important things are going well. Tomorrow is the first day back to school and theater practice. I am sure we will be rushed, unorganized and grabbing salad bar for dinner. Fortunately, everyone has clean underwear for the school week, which is a huge accomplishment here.  For me, it’s time to resume wearing a bra and get back on the hamster wheel with overflowing buckets and love.  Happy New Year!