Seventh graders at the Garrison Middle garden
Seventh graders at the Garrison Middle garden

Monday morning is not usually a great time. The phone rings non-stop. My own "to call" list is a mile long. This Monday, temperatures started to climb into the 90's, so I had to water the garden more than usual before starting my day. I didn't have time to swim laps before heading off on an appointment I'd made a few weeks ago, with my neighbor Ann Daniels.

But how quickly a "Monday mood" can change. At Ann's house, I was enthusiastically greeted by her chocolate lab Bagley. I immediately thought of her late father, Worth Bagley Daniels, who brightened this street and many parts of Baltimore for many years.


Ann's daughter came cheerfully down the steps and said hello before Ann and I took off to our alma mater, Roland Park Country School.  There we were met by Beth Drummond Casey, executive director of the citywide Middle Grades Partnership, and by Maria Hampton, dean of students for the middle school at Roland Park Country and site director for its Middle Grades Partnership program.

Although I'd heard about the program from Ann, Beth and Maria before, I'd never seen it in action. Nothing makes a week start off any better than seeing something working well in Baltimore City and something that changes lives for the better.

This summer, eight seventh graders, 13 eighth graders and 11 ninth graders from Garrison Middle School, plus 28 high school students — who are or have been in the middle grades program — are participating in a summer session at Roland Park Country.

I saw only one-third of that program Monday morning, but it made me want to see the other two-thirds and the high school students participating in them. One program in science is at Loyola University Maryland. The other, in architecture, is at Morgan State University.

What I saw at Roland Park Country made me wish I could attend such a program, and made me wish even more that girls who are middle school students at Paul's Place, where I volunteer, could participate.

The simple, but powerful, centerpiece of this particular partnership is a garden at Garrison Middle. During the school year, the garden is tended both by Garrison students and their counterparts from Roland Park Country, where the experience for Garrison students continues in summer with art, dance, reading, writing, science and math.

Today, I saw silver and gold papier-mâché frames made by the girls around canvases they'll soon paint. I saw a math teacher talking in terms of home ownership and mortgages. In science, middle schoolers were about to encounter soil samples, compost and worms. Some would use herbs in different ways from their school garden.

In reading, the books were a springboard to language, to each girl learning more about herself, to setting goals and supporting each other to achieve those goals.

The girls had made cereal boxes for a new cereal, "True Believer," with ingredients for success written on each box. In writing class, taught by Brenda Tilghman, the site director from Garrison Middle, diamond poems (one word at the beginning, four in the middle and one at the end) would focus on a garden element.

Still stiff from too many weekend hours in my own garden, I sat down in each classroom. I was reluctant to get up and leave. I want to try the diamond poem sometime myself or make a papier-mâché picture frame.

As Ann and I left, we watched a dance class. A former Middle Grades Partnership student, who's just graduated from the Baltimore School for the Arts, led a dance that was smooth and jazzy. It was clear that these middle school girls, while learning dance and choreography, were feeling good about themselves and having fun together.

Riding back to our street with Ann, whom I met in her childhood, I thought about the academic enrichment the Middle Grades Partnership provides. I also thought about the self-confidence, lasting bonds and sense of community that strengthens these young women in middle school and as they take their seats at Western High School, Baltimore Polytechnic, Virginia Commonwealth University and theUniversity of Pennsylvania.

An added boost on Monday was knowing that the Middle Grades Partnership includes eight other partnerships, like Garrison Middle and Roland Park Country, around the city. That gives me hope for the rest of the week, and for our city.