The Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust has started a $6 million fund-raising drive to help talented black youngsters attend some of the area's most prestigious independent high schools.
The $6 million endowment will be used to pay tuition costs at the 19 private schools that are affiliated with BEST. BEST officials said the fund-raising drive is aimed at local corporations and foundations.
Since BEST was created in 1987, it has placed 224 black 'D students in 19 independent schools. So far, 34 students have graduated and all have gone to college, BEST officials said.
"We've got a 100 percent college participation rate and the kids are competitive within the [high] schools," said Gregory Roberts, BEST executive director.
Thomas P. Perkins, president of BEST, said the students and the participating schools benefit from the program. The schools profit from the racial diversity provided by the BEST students, and students profit from private school educations.
Shawn Peterson, 17, of Cherry Hill, said he has gotten an excellent education at Friends School in north Baltimore. He has attended Friends since the seventh grade and now is a senior. He said he would not have been able to attend the school without BEST.
"I've [forged] a lot of new ties and met a lot of people since I've been here," Shawn said. "I've also gotten a good education. It's ++ really rigorous. In the future, I'll be able to
do what I want."
Shawn has played the piano for 12 years and studies at the Peabody Institute. He wants to major in music and theater in college. His choices are Boston University, Vassar or Catholic University.
"I had never even thought of being in a school play until I came here," he said. "If I had gone to a public school, I would have never thought of being in a play."
Shawn is one of only four blacks in his graduating class. He said his classmates have profited from his presence.
"I can give them a different viewpoint," he said, adding: "I tell them things that go on in the black community and they say, 'Oh, wow.' I realize that what I'm here to do also is to educate."
Geri Ruffin, a sophomore at Park School, said the school gives her "an edge" over students in public schools in choosing a college.
"I think I'm better prepared," she said.
Erica Taylor, who plans to major in premed at either Duke University, University of Virginia or Spelman College, said one advantage of boarding at Oldfields School in northern Baltimore County is that it keeps her out of trouble.
"It was kind of an adjustment at first. I hadn't been around so
many white people before," Erica said. "I've gotten used to the school, though."
Erica, a sophomore who goes home on weekends to attend church, said she became involved in BEST almost by accident while in the eighth grade at Northeast Middle School in Baltimore.
"I was in French class and they had an announcement for anyone interested in going to a boarding school. I wanted to get out of French class so I went," Erica said.
"But things worked out pretty good.".