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Baltimore City school teachers canvass for students

Dominique Maria Bonessi

The Baltimore Teachers Union partnered with Baltimore City Schools last week to launch a five-week campaign to enroll 1,000 new students in city schools. 

Using a database of targeted houses provided by the city, groups of teachers and paraprofessionals have gone door knocking to try to talk parents into sending their kids to city schools. But at least one group found that many of the houses where they were told school aged children lived were vacant; one after another, after another, with mail piled up at the threshold. . 

“At least ten. Yeah, at least ten,” said Felicia Whitehead, a teacher's aide, during a door knocking trip last week. “And yesterday we had a lot. Yeah it is ten including yesterday a lot and that was counting yesterday."
"I guess they say as long as you get one, two, three [kids back in school] it doesn't matter," added Shanea Richardson, a life skills paraprofessional at Callaway Elementary School.

They were working the 1700 block of Payson Street near West North Avenue along with Mary Flores, a special education teacher from Tench Tilghman Elementary school. Their goal is to talk to between 50 and 60 families a day.

They found one mother with a  three-year-old in daycare who wondered why the teachers were at her door.

"Is this because of what is going on with the funding and stuff like that," asked the mother, who did not give her name.

"We're trying to bring all the children back to school," replied Flores.  

City schools lost 1,000 kids in the 2016 to 2017 school year. They either dropped out or transferred out of the school system. In the past three years, enrollment has decreased from 85,000 to 82,350. That's about a three percent drop.

Credit Dominique Maria Bonessi
Baltimore city schools teachers make their way up North Payson Street pass vacant houses toward West North Avenue to continue knocking on doors.

"This is like a drastic measure," said Richardson. "But I think they realized they have to do something or we are going to end up having more and more layoffs."

Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, says that the loss of students was the main driver of the school system's $130 million buget deficit. 

"We realized that one of the causes of the deficit was the fact that we were losing students," she said.

State aid to city schools is tied to enrollment figures.

English says there are many reasons for the decline in enrollment; among them, families entering housing relocation programs that take them outside the city and students transferring to Catholic Schools under a program that gives vouchers to attend private schools. 

"Or perhaps," English added. "They were going to another county. Let me just say, parents want a safe environment, and they want to know that their kids are being taught by teachers that care."

That's the case for Tiffany Williams, who was sitting on her stoop in the 1800 block of West North Avenue with her two three-year-old and one eight-year old sons. Her nine-year-old was inside the house. She says she is happy with how the city school teachers support her eight-year-old, who has autism. 

"They know that autistic kids like to keep their routines," said Williams. "So they actually stick with the routine throughout the summer, so he is still in class so he is not disrupted. So I think they're doing a good job."

Richardson said she was happy to hear about Williams' experience, but city schools need to do more to attract students. 

"They're trying to come up with the grassroots effort because you're not getting anywhere with robo calls," she said. "I think this is their way of us reaching out and letting people see that we are trying to be a part of the community."

The teachers will continue knocking on doors and we'll know whether their effort is successful in a few weeks.

Education reporting on WYPR is supported in part by the Sylvan-Laureate Foundation.


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