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Attempting to remain competitive with other elite public high schools in Baltimore, Western High School has started a foundation to raise money to provide additional resources for its academic and extracurricular programs.

A formal announcement came as it began a yearlong celebration of its founding 175th years ago. Carolyn O’Keefe, a 1974 graduate, is leading the fundraising effort to enable the foundation to provide sustainable support for the girls.

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Two other elite public schools that began as boys’ schools — Polytechnic Institute and City College — have foundations supported by graduates that raise tens of thousands every year to help their schools, O’Keefe said. City College raised $2 million to renovate its library, and Poly has a base of support that extends around the city.

But Western has never had the same support from its alumnae, said O’Keefe. She is trying to change that by establishing The Western High School Foundation with the goal of raising $175,000 in the first year, to be used to help students who need tutoring or support in studying for SAT or ACT tests. O’Keefe said the board of the foundation hopes to gather resources before spending any of the money, and to eventually hire a part-time development director.

Besides providing academic support, the foundation hopes to renovate a shuttered greenhouse on the campus and improve the school’s library. In the long term, there are plans to landscape the front of the school to make it more recognizable and attractive from Falls Road. O’Keefe would also like to see a white dove sculpture erected outside. The dove is the school mascot.

On Friday morning, some city leaders gathered to launch the 175th anniversary. After remarks by alumnae, the choir sang the school song and doves were released.

Western is believed to be the oldest girls’ public school in the nation. Considered an academic powerhouse for decades, the school is a National Blue Ribbon School that has graduated some of the city’s elite, including former state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and state Sen. Jill Carter.

Western has gone through difficult times in the past decade, after one of its principals, Alisha R. Trusty, pleaded guilty several years ago to stealing more than $50,000 from the school’s activity fund, which was meant to pay for activities such as the prom. Under the leadership of Michelle White the school has regained its footing, O’Keefe said.

“Western has a vibrant school program,” White said. That includes rigorous courses, many Advanced Placement courses and a wide variety of after school programs such as choir, band and sports. “We expose our girls to learning outside the classroom to give them a well-rounded education. That costs money.”

White said the other schools have foundations pumping out money for their programs. “Western needs its foundation. It needs its powerhouse,” White said.

Part of the challenge, White and O’Keefe said, is identifying and getting back in touch with their alumnae. Over the years, the school has not reached out to recent graduates, and so part of the work will be to get people back in touch with the school.

A tab on their website will allow alumnae to register.

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