Schools and their friends


Back in the 1970s, when Baltimore was a pioneer in matching businesses and schools in long-term partnerships, the city's program was called "Adopt-A-School." Two decades later the program endures under the title "School/Business Partnerships."

The change in title acknowledges that both sides benefit from the relationship: The businesses (and other organizations) give books, computers and other materials, as well as hundreds of hours of volunteer time.

Faculty, staff and students at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, which has partnerships with Booker T. Washington Middle School and Samuel Coleridge Taylor Elementary, give 2,000 hours of unpaid time annually. They run career clubs, show students how to use computers, tutor and read to the children.

What the schools give is harder to quantify. One is the knowledge that private and public schools and the city's businesses must work together if Baltimore is to be a healthy community. Another is the chance for business people, college educators and others to "go back to the beginning," as UMAB President Errol Reese put it: "We come away with tremendous appreciation for what the administrators do and how magnificently the teachers perform under very difficult circumstances."

Critics have said that the partnerships in Baltimore amount to a business subsidy of schools that have been short-changed by an inequitable state school finance formula.

But Baltimore is no longer alone. Following on the city's example, the wealthiest districts in the state now have strong school-business programs. And some 60 public schools in the city still are looking for partners.

That is why the program's organizers have set aside May 4-8 as "Partnership Week" -- to entice other organizations to become partners and to keep existing relationships strong in these tough economic times.

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