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Downtown alliance holds education fair for city parents

The house is historic, the neighbors warm and diverse, the neighborhood near museums, shops and restaurants. But one thing concerns David and Patchaya Banks about their home in downtown Baltimore: the nearby schools.

The couple have a 31/2-year-old daughter, Tanjira, and they have doubts about their zoned school.

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"Plan A," said David Banks, a journalist, is to send Tanjira to the nearby Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School. "We don't know what Plan B is."

The Banks were among more than 400 families that attended a school and children's programming fair Saturday organized by the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance. The fair highlighted options for city parents faced with a decades-old decision: move to a suburb where schools, on average, perform better, or stay in the city and find a quality school?

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"Schools are the No. 1 deciding factor" when people are contemplating whether to stay in the city, said Beth Laverick, events coordinator for the family alliance.

Representatives of dozens of public, private and charter schools, as well as day care and extracurricular programs, met with parents and children at the fair, held at Francis Scott Key Elementary/ Middle School in Locust Point.

Many of the parents who attended Saturday's event said they moved to Baltimore as young professionals, drawn by the charms of city life — kickball leagues, quirky shops, outdoor movies and festivals.

A recent analysis of census data shows the population of young professionals in the city's center has exploded in recent years. The number of college-educated people between the ages of 25 and 34 in that area jumped 92 percent from 2000 to 2010. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has said she hopes to draw 10,000 new families to the city within a decade.

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Laverick said she has increasingly noticed parents choosing to stay in Baltimore. Attendance at the fair, which was held for the seventh year, has skyrocketed. Initially, only day care centers came to make a pitch; now, middle and high schools, and private schools such as the Gilman School and the McDonogh School, send representatives.

Laverick's two children attend Thomas Johnson Elementary/Middle School in Riverside. She and her husband, Eric, knew that they did not want to leave their Butchers Hill home when it was time for their children to start school.

"Baltimore is a great city when you're a young professional, but it gets even better when you have kids," Laverick said.

Her children, Connor, 5, and Molly, 3, spend their days playing in Patterson Park, riding the water taxi, and romping with the many children in their neighborhood, she said.

Bolton Hill resident Elizabeth Kennedy said she and her husband also knew they wanted to raise their three children in the city.

"We're more into figuring out the schools than figuring out how to work a lawn mower," said Kennedy, a professor at Loyola University's Sellinger School.

Kennedy said she has been thrilled with Mount Royal Elementary/Middle School, where her oldest attends first grade.

She and Mount Royal principal Job Grotsky staffed the school's table at the event, passing out brochures and talking about after school programs.

Grotsky, who has been at the school for two years, said he is impressed by the dedication and enthusiasm of its parents. He said he's noticed a real uptick in interest from prospective parents this year, including some who are thinking of moving to Bolton Hill for the school.

"This makes me extremely proud of all the work we've been doing," he said.

Aeirss Prince, 11, and her parents, Jay and Stephanie Prince, were among those who stopped by Mount Royal's table.

She currently attends fifth grade at Federal Hill Preparatory School, and is seeking a middle school for next year.

"I like learning about technology, language, fashion and robotics," said Aeirss.

She said she loved growing up among the excitement of the city.

"It's fun," she said. "Although sometimes it can be crazy if there's an Orioles or a Ravens game."

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