Baltimore, I Love You. What Are We Doing?

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Committed To Baltimore

I live and work in Baltimore City and send our four children to Baltimore City Public Schools.  I am a cheerleader for the City, an unofficial self appointed ambassador. I still love going to Orioles games even in this climate. When we eat out, I prefer restaurants in the City.  If there is a retail location in both the county and the City, I try to spend money in the City. We support the arts in the City and our kids play in City sports leagues. I join the PTAs and I vote in every election.  I am doing my part. And so are so many of you. But as a City, what are we doing?

Not a Blog about Baltimore’s National Narrative

This blog has nothing to do with Baltimore’s high crime, bad public transportation system, racial injustices, failing schools, our lack of a Police Commissioner, and also now a Public Health Commissioner.  Though I am reminding readers that the first week of school, my son’s high school, one of about 70 City schools, closed early for four consecutive days because there is inadequate air conditioning.  At this rate, with the lack of political action, we should plan on early closings next summer, too.

Not a Blog about the Treasures of our City

This blog doesn’t address the awesome things that I love about our City.  There are many wonderful things about Baltimore including our diversity, some of our schools, and our worldwide medical institutions.  We are home to Babe Ruth, the Iron Man Cal Ripkin, former rapper Tupac Shakur, Hairspray and John Waters, two Super Bowl victories, crabs, the Star Spangled Banner, Olympiad Michael Phelps, Preakness, Berger cookies and the snowball.  This blog reflects upon just three hours spent in Baltimore City last night.  What are we doing as a City?  We want people to spent time and money in the City, and even by my enthusiasm, it’s quite challenging.

A Blog About Three Hours in Baltimore

Last night, Saturday night, we had dinner in Federal Hill and thought about going to the O’s game, free sweatshirts were enticing, and we planned to wrap up our night at the Sandlot Beach bar. I won’t out the restaurant by name, but it’s disappointing in Baltimore to order a crab cake, and learn that the restaurant doesn’t serve cocktail sauce.  I inquired if the restaurant had horseradish. The chef sent all of the ingredients to me: horseradish, ketchup and lemons. I made the cocktail sauce myself at the table. The waitress was impressed. First and last time dining there.

We decided to walk over to Camden Yards.  We arrived in the first inning. We saw several fans walking away from the stadium with their game swag giveaway sweatshirts in hand.  I walked up to the ticket booth and asked for the cheapest tickets. Sweatshirts got people back into the Yard, but at $27 per ticket, for the very last place team in the Major League, and many open seats, even I decided to keep walking.  I will buy a new sweatshirt in a retail store another day.

We walked to the Inner Harbor. It was dark. No entertainment in the amphitheater. None of the bars near Pier 4 had outside seating or entertainment.  It was 8 PM on a warm Saturday night. It was uncomfortable being there.  Our well known tourist attraction was empty.  I saw a psychic with a pop up tent in front of a relatively empty Pavilion and even she didn’t have business.  I have memories as a kid being at Harborplace on Saturday nights and the promenades were filled with music, crowds, and entertainment.  Not last night.

We walked past the Aquarium and through Harbor East.  It was difficult to find the entrance to the Sandlot Bar.  It’s a great concept, but the first thing I read on the entry sign to the Sandlot was that everything is card purchase only, cash is too dangerous. The venue had a very small gathering. When we left, our Uber driver canceled because she couldn’t find how to get to the bar.

Marketing, Reality and Potential

Baltimore City is geographically located in a great spot.  We have terrific tourist spots and great entities for the locals.  After last night, I can’t imagine reading about Baltimore on Tripadvisor, or whatever, and traveling here for a quick getaway, and finding a local bar without cocktail sauce, no cheap tickets left for the last place baseball team, and a dark, entertainment-less attraction, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Better lighting, street entertainers and visible security might make it appealing again to make the Inner Harbor on a Saturday night a destination spot like when I was a kid.

Brody Bunch – And School Supplies

School Supply Shopping and No New Markers, Lauren

Back to school supply shopping is one of my favorite hunting and gathering expeditions of the year.   I am a marketer’s dream. I start stockpiling supplies as soon as the major box retailers put out their big displays.  With four kids we accumulate a surplus of supplies on sale that from year to year and we have an abundance of color pencils, markers and unused construction paper.  For the first time, we are no longer getting first dibs on cute pencil pouches, the kids don’t care.  I announced to my kids in the aisle, “We have enough magic markers from last year, no new markers this year.” An exacerbated mother also shopping for school supplies addressed her daughter, “Hear that Lauren? You too have enough markers from last year, no we are not buying new markers.”  Lauren rolled her eyes at me. (Sorry, Lauren).  … For all of the Moms of Laurens out there, I feel that these popular retailers should be granted a liquor license during school supply season. 

Buying Required Embroidered Uniforms Became an Experience, A Destination

This year, as the parent of a freshman high school student, we are required to purchase school approved embroidered uniforms.  This article is not about the merits of school uniforms versus street clothes, but I go on record that I am opposed to uniforms for a host of reasons, but that is for another blog.

So, I marked my calendar for a specific date that I would take my growing son for his high school uniforms.  He was not looking forward to this. I was trying to maximize both capturing a rare moment when he wasn’t rapidly growing combined with the store having a large selection in their inventory.  I am good at logistics. 

We went to Herman’s Discount School Uniforms in Baltimore City.  Herman’s is the recommended retailer.  I have never seen a store like this before.  I was like a deer in headlights but guided by an expert staff. Each Baltimore school has a large section displaying their unique logo items. Rival schools are not in the same aisles.  Parents, grandparents and alum, whether buying uniforms or not, had a lot of school pride throughout the store.  The store owners are parents of a student at our high school, so the sample uniform and spirit wear on display in the store entry represents our school. My previous pencil pouch interest transcended into the high school swag.  I tried on winter hats, in 95 degrees weather.  I was pulling T shirts over my head.  I negotiated if I needed the matching scarf with the school pride gloves, everything has the school logo. My son wanted to get in and out. 

I mixed and mingled with the staff and the customers.  It was an outing. My son just wanted a jogger jacket and the new custom polo shirts.  We bought all of it. But while we negotiating on shirt sizing – he wanted clothes that fit, but like a seasoned mother without coupons, I was trying to buy items that will last for all four years of high school, that’s the financial planner in me.  

I turned around and in addition to school uniforms, store inventory included: helium balloons, rugs, socks, toilet seat covers, curtains, baby needs, candy, batteries, and anything that you would find in a party store to a neighborhood hardware store and school uniforms.

Touring the Marvels of Herman’s

I was in awe. The owner took me on a tour.  It was enlightening. We went upstairs and there were computers, spools of threads and sewing machines, embroidering all of the various Baltimore City schools’ gear.  Hours are spent embroidering to keep up with the demand. I inquired about the store’s community charitable involvement, and the owner, while quite generous, was most humble. I felt great about spending my money here.

My son, somewhat mortified by my enthusiasm and excitement, in combination with teenage attitude, was waiting by the exit for me to leave while at the same time I was hoping to be hired for the holiday rush.  

Farewell Magic Markers, Hello School Spirit Wear

So, this year, Lauren and I didn’t pick out new markers. I made new acquaintances in the uniform store. And, while Halloween is just weeks after the start of the school year, another big retailer extravaganza, I am happy that my daughter offered to be a Trash Bag as her costume.  The money I save on her costume will be spent on new spirit wear at the uniform store.  Farewell to new markers and hello to pom pom hats donning City Forever.

The Brody Bunch participates in the National Student Walkout, and I am Proud

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My daughter’s poster for the National Student Walkout

Support the Schools -Walk Out with the Students

I am so proud that the Baltimore City public school district, administrators, teachers and students supported today’s National Student Walkout.  My own 7th grader asked me several times to attend the walkout. There was apprehension about missing classes, consequences, breaking the rules.  I declared that there would be no consequences at home for participating in a school walkout fighting this injustice.  Our school strongly embraced the need to support the students and fight to end the gun violence epidemic in our schools and made it very comfortable for students and teachers choosing not to participate in the walkout. 

At this time, it is not a matter of  IF another school shooting will happen again, it is a matter of WHERE it will happen again, and students are demanding action from legislators.  The students are rising up.  They will beat the National Rifle Association, who owns our Congress.  I support the Second Amendment, I am against assault weapons.  I am sick of being sick of school shootings.  I strongly supported today’s National Student Walkout.  During the walkout, I did not hear any political commentary surrounding the school shootings.  I learned about the 17 people killed one month ago today.  I cried for them.  This violence can happen anywhere. We have lost over 7000 children since Columbine. It is #enough.

When your kid asks you to be present, and you can, be present. I am so glad I attended the National Student Walkout, with my kids and their classmates and teachers.

At 10AM, the slated time for the National Student Walkout, the front doors to our school were held open by our Principal.  I saw my oldest son and some of his baseball teammates walkout in solidarity.  I cried.

One of my daughters found me and she hugged me.  Some other parents were on school grounds also offering their support.  Parents and teachers huddled together commenting how horrible it is that we need to do this and how proud we are of the kids. The kids will make change. My own children, and their generation, are growing up with gun violence as a “normal” occurrence, this is wrong and inhumane.  I am so proud that all four of my kids and their friends stood up for those who have been killed, and recognize that there needs to be change.  They are taking action.

Student Leaders Are Leading and Inspiring

Our student government association leaders read a tribute for each person who perished in the Parkland school shooting one month ago today and there was a moment of silence for each person.  This student run program was meaningful and important.

The 17 minute walkout ended with a student encouraging her schoolmates to March on Washington or in our own City on March 24th. I am so proud of our children for being leaders of change. 

May the children and adults who have perished in school shootings not have died in vain.  May their memories be a blessing and let the children continue to lead the way, because the adults have failed. This is more than #enough.  I stand with the students.  I walkout with the students. I march with the students. I support the students.  The students are leading the way.  I will follow their direction.  We have had #enough.

My experience ended with my daughter embracing me in the school yard.  Her sign “I am missing school because they’re missing lives” was between us.  When you are in middle school, hugging and kissing your mom in the school yard because of gun violence, it there are a lot of feelings. #enough

The Brody Bunch – Supporting Arts in Public Schools, Family & Community

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One Day – Two Agendas: Funding the Arts and Supporting the Arts

Support the arts in your local schools. In less than 7 hours, I had the opportunity to both participate in a difficult strategic planning conversation about funding arts in City Public Schools and I attended an elementary school play. Budget cuts impacted arts programming in my City, Baltimore.  I shared in the meeting that now more than ever it is necessary to support arts in the schools and reach as many students as possible. Arts spills into academic subjects. The arts help students become creative learners. Arts help kids process the challenging world around them. The arts in schools need to be valued on the same level as the school guidance counselor. It is unacceptable that the arts are on the front line during budget cuts.  

Hours after the arts meeting about budget cuts and outreach initiatives, I attended closing night of my son’s elementary school play. This is my youngest child, so our last elementary school play.  The after school rehearsals, the hours of teacher and parent volunteering, school matinees, a cast luncheon and two community wide performances were coming to an end.  The beautiful costumes, created by volunteers, would be cleaned and stored for future shows. The hand painted set by teachers and parents would come down. The Middle School Tech Crew raised the lights one last time. The cast took their final bow.  Parents gave the last standing ovation.

Photographing The Play – I Saw Through My Eyes and My HeART

As the volunteer play photographer, I sit in the front row, for each play and capture precious moments of the kids’ proud theater experiences. I share the snapshots with the theater families as mementos from our community experience. Please don’t judge my blog photos, I tried to preserve the students’ privacy.

In this final performance, I saw something beyond my camera lens.  My heart was moved beyond the play itself… I witnessed family love, pride and community. This was a gift from the theater. The play served as a vehicle for me to see my older children and their friends rise to the occasion of celebrating their younger siblings. It’s something that after all of the laundry, lunch packing and stress is a return payout for the parent. Watching the older siblings celebrate the younger siblings was surreal.

Two of my older kids were sitting near me with their friends. Many of the older kids play baseball together, so our families spend a fair amount of time together, we are an extended family.  I was happy for those families, too. I could see the lights bouncing off the older siblings’ faces. The older kids smiled with much pride when their younger siblings entered the stage or had lines. The younger siblings could see us in the audience, and their smiles of comfort, love and gratitude were wide. I could not wait to share this observation with the other parents sitting further back. Also in the audience, were baseball coaches and friends of families, without their own kids in this play, supporting kids they coach, we are a community.

The After Party – Hosted by Parents, Supported by Siblings

The play wrapped up.  Parents put together a great after party. And, one of my daughters, and her friends, 6th graders, DJ’d the post party. The songs were preselected and reviewed for inappropriate language.  Strobe lights and smoke machines filled the dance floor.  It was awesome celebrating as a community supporting the arts. As the night got later and parents went off to other parties not affiliated with the play, we met up at various homes, and celebrated the kids’ successes. The arts bring out the best in people. It was a euphoric night centered around the elementary school play.  And, the night was a great reminder that we need to keep volunteering and fighting to preserve art programs in public schools, for all of the children.

eARTh without ART is just “EH”

Supporting the arts is a value that has been passed on to me by my parents. Arts is a value. My kids attend budget rallies in support of the arts.  In the arts community, you often find people with compassion and passion. These are people to stick with. Attending your local theater is a great way to shape a kid’s world.  Like the expression “eARTh without ART is just EH” kids don’t need EH, they need art.  Less than 48 hours after the elementary school play wrapped, the middle school musical is already in progress. Support the arts in public schools.  You might get extra lucky like me and see your kids do something to melt your heART.

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.