The day after last April's violence and burning in Baltimore, I was struck by the fact that the Enoch Pratt Free Library branch near the epicenter of destruction opened that next morning as usual. No one thing showed hope more than that community library being open.
Today's libraries continue to represent the importance of access to books and education as well as the importance of access to technology. In a technological era, a library is a physical space that helps foster a sense of community, where librarygoers are in touch with people of all ages.
The library at Baltimore City College high school is in need of rebuilding and reinvention as a 21st century library. The disparity between its current empty and decrepit state and the outstanding, academically rigorous curriculum at one of Baltimore's top schools is striking to any who walk through the doors. In order to give students — some of the brightest in Baltimore — and their faculty, what they need to succeed, a new library must be built.
It seems a miracle, and a testament to the dedication of the teachers and students, that despite the lack of resources, City turns out so many graduates who head to the country's most prestigious colleges. Ninety-eight percent of the student body goes on to college, with 87 percent going to four-year colleges. Forty-eight percent of these students are the first in their families to attend college.
That's why last January the school launched a campaign to raise $2 million dollars to build a new library. As a traditional public school, with no fundraising office, infrastructure, or historical precedent, the school community has rallied around this all-volunteer effort to build a new library.
In ten months the school has raised over $1.8 million dollars with support from Baltimore City Schools, the State of Maryland, the Meyerhoff Foundation, the France-Merrick Foundation, the Abell Foundation, the Straus Foundation, the Goldseker Foundation, Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, Wells Fargo Bank, CSX Corporation, hundreds of parents, alumni, and friends. Perhaps most impressively, the students themselves have raised over $11,000.
The $2 million dollar campaign is close to completion, but it is humbling to hear how hard the City College community has to work to raise each dollar. Everything from stationery, T-shirt, and bake sales to fundraising house parties has been done.
To close the final gap, the campaign has partnered with GiveCampus, a social fundraising and engagement platform that helps educational institutions raise money more effectively. Through this partnership City is trying to tap into the strong class spirit among its alumni to finish the historic campaign. Already $20,000 in small gifts has been generated.
Earlier this week I had coffee with someone who had just attended an event that raised $60,000 in one night. A few events I've attended have raised as much as $250,000 in a night. That a school, which turns out so many leaders in government, business, education, medicine, and law, has to scrape and prod to finish a $2 million dollar campaign is emblematic of how hard it can be to provide lasting opportunity to city students.
Giving students access to computers, databases and research tools is crucial to the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum offered to all students at City. City College does not teach to the test. While SAT scores are high, the well-rounded school curriculum provides depth of knowledge in many subjects with accompanying writing and critical thinking skills.
As Cindy Harcum, City's energetic principal wrote last month in The ( Sept. 15) Baltimore Sun: "We've found that by expanding access to our International Baccalaureate (IB) program to all students, we prepare more students for college and close persistent opportunity gaps.
"In the Class of 2015, 75 percent of our seniors participated in the IB Diploma program, sitting for more than 800 IB subject exams in May. For comparison, consider that only 20 percent of students nationwide get the opportunity to take one AP course at their school."
A good library is crucial to students doing this level of work. Many do not have access to computers at home. Many branch libraries are closed by the time students, especially those involved in extracurricular activities, reach home. While Johns Hopkins University has offered City students access to its library, nothing beats having a good library – complete with collaborative work spaces, reading rooms, and extended hours — right at the school.
In the aftermath of Freddie Gray, many Baltimoreans are rededicating themselves to try to bring more opportunities to young Baltimoreans. A new library at City College seems like a small, but wise, investment in Baltimore's future. We need as many well-educated citizens as possible.