For 15 students at East Baltimore's Patterson High, a spring trip to Russia could provide a break from turmoil surrounding the school, which is being reorganized under threat of a state takeover.
But the students have only until the end of the week to raise $15,000 for airline travel, said sponsor Gerald Hoskins, if they are to complete visa requirements in time for the mid-April trip.
"We're looking for a white knight on a charger," said Mr. Hoskins, a retired teacher who taught computer education at the school for 30 years.
When Russian students visited Patterson in February and stayed with 16 of the students' families, they offered to return the hospitality of their hosts. "We knew it would be an uphill climb to raise the money, but it was a chance most of these kids might never have to experience a different culture," Mr. Hoskins said.
The students have held bake sales, candy sales and have helped mail 400 fund-raising letters to individuals and businesses. They are halfway to the $30,000 goal set for the two-week tour of St. Petersburg and Moscow. "I raised $200 in one week," said Stephen Bermudez, 15, who went to radio and TV stations, to a police precinct house and to several merchants at Eastpoint Mall in his search for contributions.
Elton Keith, 16, is excited about seeing the ballet in St. Petersburg, where she hopes to be reunited with friend Vera Gshibovskaya. The 11th-grader, who plans to study musical theater in college, has raised more than $400 by finding sponsors at St. Mark's Lutheran Church and among her neighbors.
The fund-raising campaign has been helped by a $3,000 donation from an anonymous alumnus. Students also hope for a boost from neighborhood merchants such as Chuck's Place, a bar collecting money in a "cuss box," to which patrons must donate every time they cuss, manager Chuck Maney said.
Mr. Maney said the neighborhood was eager to support the 1,800-student school, which is embarking on a reorganization this fall.
Patterson, plagued by poor attendance and test scores, was identified by the state Board of Education as a failing school in 1994 and was given the option of reorganizing. Early reform proposals were rejected, but administrators now plan to divide the school into career-themed academies.