A banner at the Eager Street Academy read "Steele making history," but Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele told the students yesterday that history sat in front of him.
Steele spoke to 97 students of the academy, located at the Baltimore City Detention Center, as part of a Black History Month observance.
Steele, the state's first black lieutenant governor, encouraged the students to value education.
Pointing to the banner, Steele told the 14- to 17-year-old students clad in emerald green jumpsuits: "You, too, can make history.
"You may have been told that there's no hope, that there's no opportunity. I'm here to tell you that's not true. You've got choices, you've got opportunity. If you take anything away from here today, make it that."
Afterward, Steele said his time on the stage in the gymnasium on a rainy morning was well spent.
"Seeing their faces was the most rewarding part. I saw their future," Steele said. "If it touched even one kid, then it was worth it."
Daniel Ennis, 17, who has been in the facility for 19 months, said Steele's speech made an impression on him. "I felt like he was talking right to me. I've once felt like there was no hope. ... He was talking straight to me."
Dawn Downing, Eager Street Academy principal, said the school's philosophy of emphasizing hope and determination was reflected in Steele's speech.
"He said over and over, 'We're not giving up on you,' " Downing said. "His commitment mirrored our philosophy."
The school opened in 1998 through a collaborative effort by the city school system, the State Department of Education and the state Division of Pretrial and Detention Services. In December, its name was changed from School No. 370 to Eager Street Academy in an effort to transform its image from that of a "jail school."
Downing said the school's curriculum is designed to enable students to complete in one month what students at other schools would do in two months. More than 70 percent of the students have met the goal, including special-education students, who make up 45 percent of the school's population, Downing said.