Some students in Adrienne Kearney-Clemons’ Harlem Park Head Start classroom already have experienced trauma from violence in their neighborhood.
Her classroom is a place where they can talk about what they’ve seen, but it also offers a reprieve from the troubles they might face at home or in their community, she said.
Now, her young students have a new, brightly colored playground in the school’s courtyard, away from the violence, drugs, trash and graffiti.
Catholic Charities Head Start of Baltimore opened the space at its Harlem Park location to some eager preschoolers Monday morning, after receiving donations from T. Rowe Price Group and other supporters.
“I’m glad they are able to enjoy the hours they have here. Otherwise, they are stuck in the house,” unable to get outside and play, Kearney-Clemons said.
Before, the students would play with toys in the paved courtyard or walk to a nearby playground, she said.
The playground is named for T. Rowe Price executive Vernon Reid, who grew up in West Baltimore.
Reid said that lowering the stress level of kids in the neighborhood is one way to help them succeed.
“Kids are pretty stressed because of violence, incarcerated parents,” he said. “We just need to go back to the old adage where it takes a neighborhood to raise these guys.”
Reid said parents, the community and the city should be working together to make sure kids have a safe place to live.
Kearney-Clemons said some of her students had heard about the recent death of Baltimore Police Detective Sean Suiter, who was fatally shot in a vacant lot about half a mile away in the 900 block of Bennett Place, though they don’t fully comprehend what happened.
“They knew someone got hurt,” she said.
Reid said kids in the community have so much potential but often lack the opportunities to help them achieve more in life.
During his remarks to the crowd, Reid quoted John F. Kennedy, saying, “Children are our most valuable resource and the best hope for the future, and I still believe that.”
“There’s a lot of potential here; there’s a lot of strife here,” he said.
Sherice Jennings, whose 4-year-old son Nubliss Patterson attends the school, called the new playground a blessing.
“These kids need it,” she said. Now, they will have “a playground here, within their school where they can play safely.”
Breaking News Alerts
But Jennings said that with each positive step forward in the city, like the new playground, there always seems to be another tragedy because of the unrelenting violence. Baltimore has topped 300 homicides for the third straight year, a mark that hadn’t been reached since the 1990s when the city had a larger population.
“Every time there is something good, there is something bad,” she said.
Jennings grew up in nearby Sandtown-Winchester. All three of her teenage sons attended the same Head Start program, and she plans on sending her 2-year-old son there once he’s old enough.
“I’m scared for my kids because it’s not how it was when I was growing up,” Jennings said. “It’s so terrible out here.”
She said she’s often concerned about the safety of her oldest sons.
“I pray every day I don’t get that call,” she said. “I just pray that it gets better for the safety of our kids.”
As she spoke, students from her son’s class darted across the soft foam ground to climb up the orange jungle gym. For now, in the rubber-coated space, surrounded by the school building, they’ll be safe, she said.