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Parents: City schools are working for us

If all young educated families leave the city, what hope is there for Baltimore let alone its schools?

We write in response to Tricia Bishop's column, "The Catch-22 in Baltimore schools" (March 16). We, as parents of school-aged children, were once in the writer's shoes and decided to stay in our neighborhood. We are lawyers, cashiers, nurses, architects, engineers, factory workers, business owners, doctors, artists, waiters, stay-at-home moms and dads. We are what Baltimore represents — a diverse group of neighbors who value the strength of our community.

We stay because we love our children, our community and being part of the solution for strong Baltimore city schools. In fact, we love Baltimore so much that we believe that all of our great city's children deserve an equal education. Education is the greatest social equalizer and studies show integrated schools lead to overall success for children of all backgrounds.

We believe that learning doesn't start and end in school. Learning happens all day and over the course of our children's lives. There are valuable lessons to be learned from being in a socio-economically, ethnically, and racially diverse school. Our children learn, collaborate and form lasting relationships with children of all backgrounds. These lessons in humility, diversity and working together are critical in today's world.

We know first-hand that being part of the solution requires a lot of energy. It is certainly not a challenge everyone feels inspired to take on. However, the need for parental involvement is not unique to city schools. Even in private and county schools, parents are expected to actively participate in support of the school. It is one of the factors shown to correlate with overall student and school success nationwide. Parental modeling is also a contributing factor in the success of a child. By working to improve our local school, we show our children that when you work hard, you build a community and benefit everyone.

We love our neighborhood and we know that loving it also means contributing to it. When individual families continue to make choices that benefit only their children, the culture of education inequality persists. The "white flight" of the 1960s when white city dwellers fled to the suburbs, changing city demographics and altering the educational opportunities available within those same urban schools is not to be reenacted. The question of what-is-best-for-only-my-child is one of privilege and one that we continue to answer by staying. When children in our city schools thrive, neighborhoods thrive and ultimately Baltimore thrives.

We feel strongly that the fabric of city life more than compensates for the absence of specific programming (music, coding classes, etc.) in our and other city schools. Living in Baltimore, our children are exposed to an impressive variety of cultural and artistic experiences every day, an advantage they might not have if they attended a school elsewhere. We, as involved parents, and as engaged Baltimore City residents, make this exposure possible. Our children live in a community full of makers — artists, musicians, programmers, designers, doctors and other creative and diverse professionals able to engage them and teach them valuable skills.

We are aware of the negative perceptions about the quality of schools in Baltimore City. Our experience, however, has been overwhelmingly positive. Our teachers are first-rate, our school is clean and friendly and the curriculum challenges students at every ability level (including gifted and advanced learners). We hope that other city parents will take the time to really look at our school and others that are thriving so that they can see for themselves the results of what happens when parents and community come together and invest in a school.

Yes, some families may still choose to leave. We choose to embrace our differences and face our challenges head on. We love our kids, our school, our neighborhood and our city and we'll continue to fight for their collective success.

Marina Smelyanskaya, Baltimore

The letter is co-signed by: Mary Bruno, Brendan Feehan, Dave Gadsby, Jo Gadsby, Kayla Garner, William Garner, Chrissy Goldberg, Marla Kanefsky, Misty Kercz, Richard Kercz, James Manfuso, Liz Miyashiro, Andrea Rackowski, Daphne Reinhart, Amy Rial, Alix Simonette, Heather St. Clair, Tim St. Clair and Ryan Sterner.

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