Students at two Baltimore schools were tapped for advice about how to keep children off the street and in the classroom this year, as a campaign revs up at City Hall to engage and protect the city's youths.
Students at Maritime Industries Academy High School told Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Councilman Brandon Scott that they'd like to see more after-school and extracurricular activities, with more variety.
Among the list of suggestions were poetry clubs, dance troupes, choir, college trips and career-oriented clubs that can help them build skills.
Rawlings-Blake and Scott visited schools Tuesday that have some of the highest truancy rates in the city.
Rawlings-Blake, who hosts a competition to reward schools with improved attendance rates, told students at Maritime that her concern is that when they're absent, "you can get into trouble, danger."
De-Von Foster-Robinson, a ninth-grader at Maritime, told the mayor that he believed students were affected by a controversial decision made by the city. "We could open more of the rec centers that have been closed down," he said.
Rawlings-Blake said the city was continuing to look for organizations to partner with to open the recreation centers that were closed. She also assured him that the city was "going to make sure that the ones we open are state-of-the art."
Other students said more opportunities to express their concerns to those in power would also be encouraging.
"Maybe if we did more things like this, it would give us hope," ninth-grader De'Taija Jones told Rawlings-Blake, adding afterward that she had "never even seen anyone close to the mayor."
"It shows that they care," Jones said of the visit. "Usually kids get more encouraged by the streets than the schools."
Rawlings-Blake also visited Booker T. Washington Middle School, where about 31 percent were absent more than 20 days in 2012, the most recent data available. About 59 percent of Maritime students were truant, according to statistics published by the state Department of Education.
Districtwide, about 22.4 percent of city students were chronically absent, according to data provided by the school system.
Scott, who introduced a bill Monday to scale back the city's curfew for children under age 14 from midnight to 9 p.m., took the opportunity to poll students at Maritime about what time they need to be in bed to get to school in the morning. Most replied about 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.
"It was great to talk to students, because these kids know what they need," Scott said at Maritime, a high school located in his district. "The fact that they want more academic and extracurricular options is very encouraging to me."
Rawlings-Blake said her education team would let the school system know what the students told her Tuesday.
"The kids are very clear about what they want to see in their schools, and they certainly are clear about their goals and aspirations and what they need to get there," Rawlings-Blake said.
Students said they were glad to have a sounding board beyond their administrators.
"Most principals don't really accept what we're thinking, so that's why a lot of kids skip," said Darrian Holmes, who wants to start a gaming club at Maritime. "If you got more kids interested, they'd come to school."
Maritime Principal Tawney Manning, who started at the school this year, said the conversation was encouraging because "the things they're asking for is part of my vision for the school."
She said that it was particularly important for ninth-graders to voice their concerns, since national statistics show that 40 percent of ninth-graders fail their first year, and 4 percent of those students go on to graduate.
"What we know is we only get one time to get this right," she said.
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