Forget about integrated schools. The reality is that Carroll County schools are nearly all-white, and most Baltimore City schools are predominantly black.
But two elementaries are bridging the gap with a common academic purpose: reading.
Yesterday, students from Friendship Valley Elementary School in Westminster visited their sister school in West Baltimore, Lockerman Bundy Elementary, with a small truckload of books they donated to the city school's library.
Students who talked together afterward focused on what they have in common: a love of ponies, Nintendo and X-Man comic books. They didn't seem to be talking about the contrast between Friendship Valley's bucolic setting and the high-crime drug corner two blocks from Lockerman Bundy, according to one teacher.
The whole thing started as a way to get children at Friendship Valley to do more reading outside of school.
Principals and teachers there challenged students to read a collective 200,000 minutes, and got various book publishers to agree to contribute more than 500 new books if students met the goal.
"It was never our intention to keep the books," said Thommie DePinto, assistant principal at Friendship Valley. Instead, the children gave the books to Lockerman Bundy.
"We have a lot of books, and I wanted Lockerman Bundy to have as many books as we did," said Kathleen Klein, a fifth-grader at Friendship Valley and daughter of Nessa Klein and Albert Klein.
Kathleen said student reaction to the project was lukewarm at first. But reading minutes started accumulating much faster once a group of Lockerman Bundy students visited Westminster last month.
"At first when I started, I didn't know if I wanted to do it," Kathleen said. "But when I saw how nice everyone is, I wanted to read more."
Lockerman Bundy Principal Donald Lipscomb said the school was glad to accept the partnership, and decided it could contribute something to Friendship Valley.
A group of third-graders visited Feb. 17 to read poetry and give the school a presentation on black history.
On Feb. 25, the Lockerman Bundy band played for Friendship Valley. "The band was excellent," Kathleen said.
Classmate Kirsten Brewer, daughter of Dean and Roxane Brewer, said the poetry and black history the Baltimore children related were things the Westminster students wouldn't have gotten otherwise.
"We do a little bit, basically about Martin Luther King," Kirsten said. "We don't learn much other than that."
The pairing of the two schools came about through Mrs. DePinto's internship in the Baltimore schools' staff development office, as part of her work on a doctorate. A supervisor there recommended Lockerman Bundy as a school "where children love and really value being in school," said Sharon Craig, reading resource teacher at Friendship Valley.
Schools all over Carroll County have sponsored reading promotions. Several principals agreed to do wacky stunts, such as kissing a pig and spending the day on skates, if students met their goals.
Mrs. Craig wanted to devise a program in which the children's reward for reading was intrinsic.
"We really wanted it to be for the joy of reading," Mrs. Craig said. But school officials wondered whether children would be willing to read if there was no external, personal reward.
Mrs. Craig said the visit from the city school made a big difference. One mother told her that her children at first resented not being able to earn certificates for free pizzas at Pizza Hut, the way many other schools reward outside reading.
"That all changed the day the Lockerman Bundy students came to visit," Mrs. Craig said during yesterday's visit to Baltimore. "They wanted to share something with you because you have given them so much."
"We thought it would be fun to let them know about black history," said Lockerman Bundy third-grader Candis Blue, 8, who gave a short presentation on Harriet Tubman.
"We asked the teachers, 'Could we go to Friendship Valley and do something?' " Candis said.
Shannon Williams, also a third-grader, read a poem, "Black and White," by Langston Hughes.
When they returned to their school last month and Friendship Valley called in with requests for copies of some of the presentations, students realized how much of a contribution they had made, said Eloise Gross, a math tutor at the city school.
Mrs. DePinto said she had always envisioned a cultural exchange as part of the pairing, but that Lockerman Bundy offered to do much more than she ever expected.
"We thought there would be an exchange of culture, and we wanted that because our children need it," said Mrs. DePinto. "But we didn't realize the intensity of it."