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Celebrating America's Birthday in Baltimore

Summertime is full of fun, family traditions, and 4th of July is a highlight for Baltimore families. Everywhere you turn, red, white and blue-clad city kids can be seen throughout the city, celebrating America’s birthday.

One of the many popular attractions takes place in the Federal Hill neighborhood, the 24th Annual Fourth of July parade and street party. Federal Hill and South Baltimore families will gather on the 800 block of William Street at 10am on Saturday, July 4th, 2015. The parade itself departs at 10:30 with all in attendance marching.  The patriotic buzz is seen on decorated bikes, strollers, wagons – and word on the street in 2015 is that there may even be an original float or two. Post-parade, the attendees gather for the National Anthem, a hoola-hoop contest, egg & spoon race, water balloon toss, and limbo.

As if this 24 year community led celebration was not inspiring enough, just north of Federal Hill, there is a 200 year anniversary occurring this Independence Day.

Saturday, July 4th will be hopping in the Mount Vernon neighborhood from 8:30am-5pm with The Monumental Bicentennial, a celebration & re-dedication of the Washington Monument in Baltimore, Maryland, whose cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1815.  It is a family friendly free celebration and country fair in Mount Vernon Place. The celebrating includes a FREE Country Fair and Festival in all 4 squares of Mount Vernon Place. The day-long festivities will include a Naturalization Ceremony, a formal ribbon cutting, LIVE music, great food, Colonial Kids area with games, activities, and demonstrations of historic trades/crafts, as well as special tours and performances at local institutions in Mount Vernon.  For more info visit

Whether on a rooftop deck, a blanket in Patterson Park or Fort McHenry, or up close at the Inner Harbor, fireworks will cap off the holiday. You can celebrate the Fourth of July with live music and celebratory fireworks at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.  Baltimore’s Fourth of July Celebration takes place from 7pm to 10pm.  Live music from the popular contemporary ensemble The United States Navy Band Cruisers begins at 7pm at the Inner Harbor Amphitheater, located at Pratt and Light streets.  The fireworks show, choreographed to festive music, begins at 9:30pm.  The display is produced by Pyrotecnico.  The holiday fireworks can be viewed from several locations in downtown and the surrounding areas, including Federal Hill, Fell’s Point and Harbor East.


Wendy Muher is Childrens Programming Chair for the DBFA, and is looking forward to going to her 8th Federal Hill parade and having a great city day on July 4th!


"Do Cities Need Kids?"



“Do Cities Need Kids?”

That was the title of a recent article in the February edition of Governing Magazine.  In the article, the author focuses on Seattle as a city that appears to be thriving but is not very family-friendly.  It talks about how singles and young couples without kids are great because they generate plenty of tax revenue but don’t ask for much in return by way of city services.  As a result, developers are building tons of small apartments to accommodate those folks so families that do want to live in the city often find little to no viable housing options.  And because families have nowhere to live, the city schools suffer because no one is sending their children there, having fled for the suburbs. 

On the surface, the plan seems to be working.  Downtown Seattle is attracting more businesses, which brings more jobs, and those employees with families commute in and out of the city while those without kids live downtown and enjoy the nightlife, etc.

But is that model sustainable?  And more than that, is it better than a city that includes a mix of singles, young couples and families?  Sure, families need more city services like schools and playgrounds and recreation centers, but think about what they are bringing in return.  More business diversity, for one.  Canton used to be all about bars and restaurants, and now it has department stores and shoe stores and other retail outlets that appeal to everyone but wouldn’t have been possible without the large demand from families who live there. 

And families tend to stay longer in one place so a city gets the benefit of more long-term residents and less turnover.  What we are seeing in Baltimore is a direct example of that.  Communities are stronger and able to get more accomplished because they have enough people who are here for the long haul and therefore cannot be ignored by politicians.  

But the most important reason – and one that cannot be easily quantified – is what children can do for a city and that is change it’s very soul.  We’ve seen it happen in New York and Philadelphia and are just starting to see it here in Baltimore.  Think about what image of New York City people had 20 years ago.   It’s nothing like the city it is now.  The presence of children brings joy, laughter, and a reminder that we have a future generation we need to look after.  That helps keep people on their toes. 

In essence, what those cities have shown, and what we are trying to show here in Baltimore, is that there is plenty of room for everybody.  So do cities need kids?  If they want to reach their full potential, the answer is most certainly “Yes!”



Kindergarten readiness still a problem

There was an interesting op-ed on recently, written by Rosemary Truglio, VP of Content and Research with Sesame Workshop, the non-profit responsible for “Sesame Street.”

In it, Truglio cites a study her organization did that showed only 1 in 3 U.S. children are ready for kindergarten.  By ready she says merely possessing the understanding of math and reading concepts taught at that level.  Not necessarily knowing them but at least recognizing the concepts behind counting and stories, etc.

Furthermore, she said nearly half the children entering kindergarten do not have proficient levels of all three behavioral skills (social, emotional and executive function) that are needed to help them learn and thrive at school.  In fact, 1 in 3 children entering kindergarten today aren’t proficient in any of those skills, she said.

The study, which you can read by clicking here, identifies four risk factors that typically lead to lower school readiness.  And it shows a direct correlation between the number a risk factors a child has and how prepared they are to enter kindergarten.  The factors they identified are as follows:

The child lives in a single parent household.

The child’s mother has less than a high school graduation.

The child’s income is below the federal poverty line.

The primary language spoken in the home is not English.

The more you can do to reduce those risk factors, the more prepared your child is going to be for kindergarten.  But even if your child has one or more of those risk factors, there are things you can do as a parent to mitigate them. 

Truglio cites current research showing scientists are able to detect differences in various parts of the brain between children as early as 18 months old.  She said those results “added to the growing evidence that parents play an absolutely critical role in the development of their baby's brain.”

Growing evidence?  I thought that was universally recognized as fact by now.  It certainly is among DBFA supporters.  Reading to babies early and often, verbally narrating the world around them, joining playgroups to develop their social skills, these things are done all the time by many parents, rich and poor.  And more often than not, their kids end up ready for school and with a solid foundation.  And it doesn’t cost any money to do any of those things, just effort and time.


Grand Prix Memories

Back in 2010, my oldest son, Jackson, was reading the Dangerous Book for Boys and stumbled on a section about how to build a simple go-cart. We’re not talking about a gas-powered muscle cart here, just a simple car made from basic materials that would roll down a hill with steering enough to avoid hitting a tree or a parked car.  Jackson really thought this looked cool and asked if we could give it a shot. Since he was 8 years old at the time, I thought he was a bit young for the project so I gave the typical kick the can down the road response “Looks fun. We should do that sometime.”  Of course, we didn’t. 

Two and a half years later, the book re-surfaced in the house and I remembered our conversation, including my lame response.  I really felt like I missed a wonderful bonding opportunity.  By this time, Jackson, now 11, had become interested in woodworking through his design and woodworking class at school and I realized that now was the time to redeem myself.  When I approached him, he was excited to build a car but quickly pointed out that there was no one to race against.  “What’s the point of building a car if you can’t race it?” he asked.   How could anyone argue with that point?  I couldn’t.  So we set out to gather some interest from a few other kids in the neighborhood hoping to put on at least one race.

A few weeks later, several families had signed on with the confidence and “how bad can it be” attitude that is so critical to making something new like this work.  Knowing that there would now be some competition really energized the design and construction efforts at Team Shelby headquarters.  We started spending entire weekends on cutting, bolting, sanding, painting, and testing what had evolved from a simple design to a sleek open wheel racer.  This went on for months.  It seemed like every mistake we made turned into an opportunity to make the car even better.   It was the first time we had built something this involved together and it opened up so many different interactions between us that simply don’t happen when you’re churning through the daily routine, week in and week out. 

As we got closer to race day, some major questions remained, like where will the race take place?  How will we prevent actual cars and trucks from driving on the race track given our location in South Baltimore? Will there any awards or prizes to recognize the kids’ efforts?  Realizing that these questions needed to be answered, some quick choices were made.  Having the inaugural race on the same weekend as the Baltimore Grand Prix seemed like a great idea thematically and the race could start at historic Federal Hill Park on Warren Ave, continuing down to Light Street.  What could go wrong?  No permit,  limited breaking power, parked cars.  No problem.

Thankfully, the “2013 SOBO Grand Prix” went off without a hitch and included a small paddock to show off the cars.  Those who visited saw some impressive displays of ingenuity from the kids who had to repair broken cars mid-race.  The event started with the national anthem, introductions, and lots of cheering.  Post race there was an awards ceremony on a make-shift podium constructed out of stacked storage containers and a trip to Sam’s Bagels to celebrate.

The GoPro video captured by one of the parents was edited into an exciting short video put to music that included car-mounted race footage and everything else that made the event so much fun.  (Click here to see the video.)  This same video was re-circulated this year and has resulted in triple the number of entries from some amazing teams, including an opportunity for me to build a new car with my youngest son, Nico.

The next time one of my sons suggests something cool that we could do in the city for older kids, I’m committed to reducing my response time to less than two years. What seemed like obstacles at first were really opportunities for something great.

Justin Shelby is the CEO of the Artichoke, a mobile application that helps wellness practitioners get organized, get booked, and get paid. He and his wife, Andrea, live in Federal Hill with their two sons, Jackson and Nico.  The Shelby’s also own Federal Hill Fitness and MV FItness, two upscale, boutique health clubs in Baltimore City.



Wake up!

So how has the first week of school been for you?

At my house, with both girls in school now (1st grade and pre-k 3, respectively), it’s been quite the experience, let me tell you.  For starters, their body clocks are still on summer time, where they were used to waking up around 8 AM.  So, how do you think it’s going when I roust them out of a dead sleep at 6:30 AM every morning?  Yeah.  Plus Estelle keeps sneaking into her sister’s room during the night despite our repeated attempts to thwart her.  (She’s quite wily, like her old man.)

I’m not going to lie to you, it’s been rough.  I’m not a morning person to begin with, so to have to deal with the crying and the whining and the complaining first thing when I wake up is not my idea of a great way to start the day.  To their credit, by the time we get downstairs for breakfast they are good to go but it’s that initial 30-40 minutes of hell that has me pulling my hair out.  I keep saying to myself, if only school started later.

Then I read an article that talked how pediatricians are recommending that middle and high schools should start later to give teenagers more sleep.  And I did some digging, and found out there there’s even a movement to at the very least get the conversation about later school start times started on a national level.   And Education Secretary Arne Duncan supports it!  A few days ago he tweeted the following:  “Common sense to improve student achievement that too few have implemented: let teens sleep more, start school later…”

Ah, common sense, that famous roadblock to getting things done these days.  According to studies, children under 12 need 11-12 hours of sleep per night.  That’s actual sleep, mind you.  That means going to sleep between 6:30 - 7:30 PM.  At my house, after dinner, our evening exercise, and bath time, they are in bed by 7:30 PM.  Now what time do they actually go to sleep?  That’s another story.  Estelle comes downstairs at least two times a night with tears in her eyes to tell me her room is scary or she saw a bug.  Alivia, to her credit, stays in her bed but tells me each morning how late she stayed up because she has the time projected on her wall courtesy of her Hello Kitty alarm clock. And it’s usually pretty late.

I don’t know all the particulars about the pros and cons about starting schools later, all I know is if the movement ever comes to Baltimore, you can sign me up for it.

What do you think?  What do you see as the benefits or drawbacks to starting school 1 hour later?   Go to our Facebook page and give us your thoughts.  Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery counties already have movements going in their respective areas.  Who knows, maybe we can be the ones to start the movement here in the city!


Community engagement through running

From running cross country and track in high school to full and half marathons in the last several years, running has played a significant role throughout my life. Some of us run for competition and fitness, others for the sense of community that comes with running partners and groups. Regardless, there is nothing like the exhilaration one feels after completing a goal that has been set well in advance.

While there are many races held in Baltimore, very few bring together diverse communities and families. The Sowebo Landmark 5K aims to unite neighbors, families, schools, and local resources to empower our youth to be active, eat well, and lead healthy lives. This is why DBFA has signed on to be a 2014 Family Field Day Sponsor. At the intersection of healthy living and diverse community engagement, this 4th Annual 5K run/walk highlights the best of Southwest Baltimore’s communities, parks, people, and landmarks. The family friendly 5k run/walk, begins in Union Square Park and runs past Hollins Market, through the B&O Railroad Museum and down into Carroll Park and culminates back in Union Square.

Not only is this a race that highlights some of the historic landmarks in Southwest Baltimore, it includes people of all ages and a variety of neighborhoods. Sowebo community residents have teamed up with the Chesapeake Center for Youth Development (CCYD) and the Southwest Baltimore Charter School (SBCS) to stand up and get moving. We are proud to announce that youth under the age of 16 are able to register and run for free! As many of you know, childhood obesity is a national epidemic that endangers our future. Many of us parents have our children engaged in a number of athletic activities, however, this is not the case in every situation. So we want to encourage our young people to have a lifelong relationship with exercise.

Please come out and support this awesome family friendly event. Having run this race in each of the first three years, I can tell you that it is truly a blast! Even if you are not a runner, please come and support DBFA as a number of our members along with their friends and families will be participating. The 4th Annual Sowebo Landmark 5K will be on Sunday, October 5, 2014. For those of you planning to take part in the Baltimore Running Festival, this is a good tune up race with two weeks to go. If you have never run a 5K this is also a great race for novices or anyone looking to get more active. For additional information visit

John Bullock is DBFA's Executive Director.


In defense of "Helicopter Parents"

I came across a slideshow on an education website recently that asked, “Are you a Helicopter Parent?” and then listed 10 signs that you might be one.  Curious, I clicked through it and was amazed by what they considered to be “Helicopter Parenting.”

For starters, the first thing they listed was “You Can’t Let Go” and proceeded to denigrate parents who get too emotional when sending their children off to kindergarten.  They try to get cute with it, saying, “If you feel something close to physical pain…” but the implication is clear: It’s wrong to feel sad about your babies growing up. 

I won’t go through the rest of them one by one but basically they make fun of things like being prepared, wanting our kids to be sanitary and healthy, and choosing their food and friends for them.

I did some additional research and it became clear to me that the definition of a “Helicopter Parent” has changed.  Whereas before it used to define those who took the above to an extreme level, now it seems to be encompassing anyone who simply goes the extra mile.

For example, when I leave the house with my girls, I always grab my DBFA drawstring tote bag and make sure there are waters, snacks, wipes, hand sanitizer and, when appropriate, sunscreen.  I know many parents who do the same.  I realize that may not be what the average parent does in this country but I certainly don’t consider that to be extreme behavior on our part.

Or when DBFA makes a conscious decision to provide water and quality juice boxes at our events and stays away from sodas and other sugary drinks because that’s what our member families want, that’s a bad thing?  Really?  In this unprecedented era of childhood obesity, we’re the freaks? 

And playgroups have been a great way to connect DBFA member families to each other.  Be careful, though, because picking your child’s friends in this fashion could mean you too are a “Helicopter Parent.”

I realize my folks didn’t do any of these things and many parents today don’t either.  That’s fine.  But why does doing them come with some kind of negative attachment?  That’s the part I don’t get.  I understand the extreme component.  In fact, there’s a show coming up called “Extreme Guide to Parenting” on Bravo which highlights those extreme behaviors.  I agree there’s a point where your actions as a parent can be smothering and detrimental to a child’s development.  I just don’t think wanting them to be nourished, clean, healthy and have friends whose parents share similar values as you qualifies.

What do you think?  Do you consider yourself a “Helicopter Parent” and, if so, are you OK with that?  Go to our Facebook Page and share your comments.

Thanks for reading and have a great week!


Kindergarten Workload: Too Much?

In a recent column in the Washington Post, Valerie Strauss continued to call attention to amount of work being assigned to kindergartners and the negative impacts that appears to be having on our young people.

She talks about how kindergarten has shifted from learning through structured play to becoming more of an academic workshop in response to the reforms that focus on standardized test scores as a measure of school and teacher performance.  The result, Strauss says, is that young children are taken out of the environment that experts say they learn best in.

Towards the end of the article she references an email she received from a mother in Arizona who listed her child’s daily kindergarten homework, which definitely seems excessive to me.  Although the author qualifies that this is from a “gifted” kindergarten class, Strauss added that she receives emails like this all the time from parents whose children are in regular kindergarten classrooms.

That got me thinking about my oldest daughter’s “workload” in kindergarten, which she just completed this past year.  It was about 30 minutes a day, but that number is somewhat inflated because she tended to “dilly-dally” at times. 

Even still, that’s significantly more than the 45 minutes a week at most that a leading homework expert mentioned in Strauss’ article recommends for 1st – 3rd graders.  I’ll admit at times it was a bit of a crunch to get it done, especially if she had an after school activity that day.  But at no time did I ever consider it excessive.

Of course, when compared to kindergarten a generation ago, it is excessive.  That’s because we had no homework!  So there’s definitely been a sea change in terms of how we teach young students these days.  The question though, is why, and more importantly, is it for the better?

What do you think?  Why are they getting so much homework?  Are we putting too much on our kindergartners and young students in general too soon?  Is their workload appropriate for the times we live in or is it simply a misguided response by schools to deal with standardized tests?  If you ran the school, what would you do?

Go to our Facebook page and give us your feedback.  Thanks for reading!


How should disruptive behavior in pre-K and kindergarten be handled?

New City Schools CEO Gregory Thornton used his first board meeting to tackle the issue of pre-K suspensions, instituting new rules that require principals to consult with the central office before issuing any suspensions.  (“City seeks to curb pre-K and kindergarten suspensions,” July 10, 2014).

These suspensions, used to address disruptive behavior at the pre-K and kindergarten level, had been on the rise in the city, so much so that as recently as 2012-2013 Baltimore had more of them than any other district in the state, according to the Sun, which first reported on the little-known practice back in 2013.

Since the story became public, it has garnered widespread attention, both at the local and national level, and has spawned task forces and focus groups and other methods designed to determine what the best way is to handle disruptive behavior in the classroom at the pre-K and kindergarten level.  The latest rules are one such outcome of these discussions. 

Not surprisingly, the issue is not without controversy.  On the one hand, you have those arguing that removing the problem children from school only hurts their chances to improve, while others say allowing them to continue to disrupt the class hurts the other students’ chances to learn.

Principals want the autonomy to make the decision they see fit for their individual circumstances while administrators want to ensure fairness and consistency are being applied across the board.  Teachers want to spend more time teaching and less time disciplining and parents want to know the classroom is safe for their children.    

It’s obviously important to get a handle on this situation.  While the district refused to furnish any specifics on the nature of the actions that caused these suspensions, the behavior must’ve been bad enough that the teacher and principal felt removing the child from the classroom was appropriate.  You typically won’t see that action for minor behavioral issues. 

Thornton, who once had a rule against suspending pre-K or kindergarten students, said he changed his mind after witnessing a student’s disruptive behavior.  He now feels it is warranted in certain circumstances, particularly if the student poses a danger to himself or others. 

One thing that caught my attention, however, was when Thornton said he believed it was the educators’ responsibility to figure out the root causes of a child’s disruptive behavior.  I’m curious if teachers and principals feel the same way.  And let’s say they do figure out the root cause of a particular student’s behavior.  Then what?  Who is responsible for addressing the root cause?  And how does that help the present situation in the classroom?  That’s the question before us.  Thornton added that he feels school leaders across the country are struggling with this specific problem as well.

What do you think?  Are suspensions at the pre-K and kindergarten level an effective means of addressing problem behavior?  Given the many other challenges many of our schools are facing, should students who are engaging in disruptive behavior remain in the classroom?  Is there another option out there worth considering?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.   You can share them here or on our Facebook page.  


Kitchen Table Conversations May Lead to Better City Schools

They pulled up chairs and sat cross-legged on the floor of my living room, fifteen of my neighbors sharing their hopes and fears for the future of Baltimore City Schools.  My husband and I were hosting a “kitchen table conversation,” part of a listening tour organized by The Fund for Educational Excellence in order to brief the incoming City Schools CEO about what parents and community members are looking for from City Schools.  As I jotted down my friends’ ideas, experiences, successes and failures, I flashed back to a moment five years earlier, standing on the porch of our rental house in a leafier neighborhood at the edge of the city, when I told our neighbors that (unlike most families who were leaving), we were not heading further out to the suburbs, but instead moving downtown.  At heart we were city people.  There would be challenges, but we were more interested in figuring out “the schools question” than we were in mowing a lawn.  Now, sitting in my Bolton Hill living room as MICA students streamed by outside, we were having one of those vibrant conversations about city schools that I hoped we’d be having when we moved downtown.

This wasn’t the first conversation we’d had in our house about city schools.  Not by far.  Soon after moving to Bolton Hill, we started thinking about schools for our daughter Amelia, who was then still crawling.  Without backyards to retreat into, we met neighbors in pocket parks and alleyways and as they walked their babies and dogs past our front stoop.  We discovered that while some kids went to private schools, many others went to public: to the charter school across the street (Midtown Academy), other charters around the city (like the coveted Montessori), or magnet programs like Ingenuity at Roland Park.  But what, I wondered, about the public school in the center of Bolton Hill?  That school, just a block from our house, wouldn’t require a lottery, carpool or tuition.  The answer I kept getting was, “Nobody sends their kids to Mount Royal.” 

It didn’t require much detective work to figure out that there were over 800 kids at Mount Royal.  Clearly somebody was sending children there, just nobody from Bolton Hill.  When I started asking my neighbors why they hadn’t chosen Mount Royal, I discovered that most hadn’t even considered it an option.  I found this hard to believe.  Mount Washington and Roland Park were popular public schools in neighborhoods with similar demographics and progressive politics.  Even more curiously, when another professor at Loyola learned I lived in Bolton Hill, her eyes lit up and she said, “And you’ve got that fabulous school!” “You mean Midtown Academy?” I asked.  “No, no, Mount Royal!”  She explained how she had petitioned from out of zone to have her children attend a school that families within the zone wouldn’t consider.  The data troubled me: my predominately white neighbors had never been inside Mount Royal but thought it was terrible.  My African American colleague had sent her own children there and thought it was terrific.  Clearly there was a disconnect. 


I began spending a lot of time on the Mount Royal playground, with baby Miles strapped to my back as I chased after two-year old Amelia.  I met more neighbors, like Bill Wells, an alumnus of Mount Royal who hoped to send his own children there.  An ally!  We spent a lot of time talking about what we wanted in a neighborhood public school, and we concluded that Mount Royal was either terrible at marketing (in which case, we should help the school do it better), or had actual deficiencies (in which case, we should help the school fix them).  In either case, we wanted to get to work.

My husband originally thought we should send Amelia to Midtown Academy.  The school is small – 20 kids per grade.  Nicholas and I are products of large urban schools and we liked the vibrancy and opportunities that big schools can offer.  But many of our friends sent their kids to Midtown, and the idea of a ready-made community of parents we already knew and liked was appealing.  We also value diversity: Midtown is 75% African American, 16% White, 4% Latino and 4% Asian/Pacific Islander; Mount Royal is a Title I school and 98% African American.  But we ultimately decided that the lack of diversity at Mount Royal was a problem entirely within our neighborhood’s control: all that was required to change it was to enroll more neighborhood kids.

Through these conversations on the playground and sleepless nights spent thinking about Mount Royal, I came to the conclusion that I care about public schools for two reasons.  I am a parent of three young kids and, like every parent, want the best for my children.  But I’m also a citizen of Baltimore, and the future of my city (and my children’s city) depends on a school system that develops engaged, educated, and enfranchised citizens. I worry that if we neglect neighborhood schools, we will end up with a Baltimore that is even more segregated, and even more divided.  A city in which only those children whose parents can navigate (and win) charter school lotteries or pay for tuition, as well as have the ability to transport them across town, will experience a high-quality education, leaving behind the children who most depend upon and can benefit from public schools. 

With the countdown on (“T-minus 3 years until kindergarten…”), I started volunteering in the Mount Royal kindergarten classrooms, brainstorming arts and curricular partnerships, and linking up families who shared this vision for a vibrant neighborhood school.  Together, we formed Midtown Parents, which extended beyond Bolton Hill into other Midtown neighborhoods like Mount Vernon, Station North and Reservoir Hill.  We organized family social events, open houses, and many, many meetings.  In 2012, Bill and Stacy enrolled their son Nathanial in Mount Royal.  As his first year unfolded, Stacy shared her rubric for whether or not it was working out: “Every day I ask myself three questions.  Is he learning?  Is he happy?  Does he want to go back to school?”  Despite predictable bumps and hurdles, her answers to those questions were always “yes.”  Watching Nathanial thrive at Mount Royal was the best evidence upon which we could base our own decision.   Although Amelia was awarded a spot in the Midtown Academy lottery, we turned it down and registered her at Mount Royal.  


The summer before Amelia entered kindergarten, the school’s principal announced her retirement.  Luckily, as a result of our involvement, Stacy and I were appointed to the principal selection committee.  Bureaucratic rules threatened to prevent us from moving forward with our chosen candidate because North Avenue wanted to have a “second” choice when we only had one.  North Avenue pushed back, we pushed back harder and in the end, we were delighted to welcome aboard Job Grotsky, Mount Royal’s energetic, engaging, and creative new principal.

At the end of my daughter’s first year, as I watched the closing ceremonies for the kindergarten class, I thought back to Stacy’s rubric.  Was Amelia learning, was she happy and was she excited to return to school each day?  Just then, Amelia flashed a big smile as she walked across the stage to cheers and applause from her friends and their families, who were as excited for her success as we were.  She’s reading, loves math and science, and is excited for first grade.  She’s made good friends, as have we.  This is not to say that her first year in school was a totally smooth ride.  Much like how a Facebook page can present a highly edited picture of a perfect family life, I’ve learned to see through the marketing materials and local lore about every school: from the idyllic seeming private schools to the gritty seeming public schools.  Ensuring “Great Kids, Great Schools,” takes a lot of work.  There are amazing days, there are difficult days.  Halfway through her first year, I decided to hedge our bets and enter her again in the Midtown lottery, this time for first grade.  When we got the call that she had made it off the wait list, I felt confident turning down the spot.  It’s nice to have choices; but we were again choosing Mount Royal.  Using Stacy’s rubric to assess my own experience as a school parent, I’m happy, I’m learning, and I’m very excited to go back.

Looking around my living room during our “kitchen-table conversation,” I was so proud of my neighborhood, and of my neighbors who not only took the time to share their thoughts, but who work every day on behalf of public schools.  Clear themes emerged: quality public school options are keeping more families in Baltimore City, and for that reason Baltimore City needs to make public schools a real priority.  Parents want choices, but a system based solely on choice cannot succeed unless we can guarantee that all children have access to high quality, public schools, not just those who can win a lottery.  No matter where you send your child to school, whether private or public, charter or neighborhood, the success of that school depends upon the support of the surrounding community as well as the community within the school.  And finally, as parents who have purposefully chosen to raise our children in the city, we bring to the table a level of energy, creativity, endurance and compassion that make us great partners in our city schools.


Elizabeth Kennedy is an Associate Professor of Law & Social Responsibility at Loyola University Maryland and a DBFA board member.  DBFA has been hosting, facilitating and participating in “kitchen table conversations” across the city.  If you have not yet participated in one of these sessions, and would like to provide your input, you can do so by completing the survey here.  Please write “DBFA” when asked where you heard about the survey.