Generous gifts

Art and Patricia Modell have pledged $5 million to help start a public boarding school for disadvantaged students, a large and unusual private gift to a Maryland public school.

The boarding school, authorized by the General Assembly last year, is expected to be operated by the nonprofit SEED Foundation using state and local funds. The gift by the Modells, minority owners of the Ravens, will help to pay for buildings and other capital expenses. Organizers say the school will open in fall 2008, probably in Baltimore, and eventually offer grades six through 12.


The Modells disclosed the gift last night at a private reception in Baltimore. Pat Modell said her hope for the school is that "these children are given a whole new life."

The gift came after Pat Modell made a visit last year to the SEED School in Washington, a charter school that will serve as a model for the Maryland school. "The moment I went there, there was a feeling of happiness," she said.


She saw simple but beautiful buildings, good teaching and students who were laughing. "I was fascinated by it. ... It was as good as any boarding school," she said.

The SEED School takes students who have disadvantages that could be overcome by a boarding school. In some instances, their immediate families have dissolved and they are living with cousins or other relatives. In other cases, they have a single parent who may be working two jobs or long hours and may fear the child will be sucked in by neighborhood violence and drugs.

The General Assembly stipulated that the Maryland school have eligibility criteria so that it will be available to students who need it the most, said Carol Beck, director of new schools development in Maryland for the SEED Foundation, based in Washington. Those criteria are likely to mean the average student may be failing in school, have a fragile family structure and be poor.

In existence for nine years, the SEED School in Washington has a track record of helping students achieve academically. About 97 percent of its graduates are accepted to four-year colleges and about 85 percent are now on track to graduate from college. In most cases, they are the first in their immediate family to go to college.

The Modells have given to many causes over the years, some of them having to do with children, but Pat Modell said she has developed a passion for the school and will serve on both the national SEED Foundation board and the Maryland board.

'Open their minds'

In an interview in the couple's home in Cockeysville, she described her long-standing belief that children would succeed only if they had basic comforts that allowed them to concentrate on school. The SEED School seemed to be the answer. She now dreams about what she would like to see there.

"Once you take on this responsibility, you owe everything to these children to open up their minds," she said.


Eric Adler, cofounder and managing director of the SEED Foundation, said Pat Modell's involvement has extended beyond the donation. "From the moment she came and visited she has been very serious about the project," said Adler. "She is passionate and she is determined."

The Modells' gift will become the cornerstone of a campaign to raise $60 million, $30 million of which will come from private donations and the remainder from loans.

"It is just an enormously generous gift and it means that we are well on our way to raising the funds we need to start the SEED School of Maryland," Adler said.

The money will go to build the facility and pay for other capital expenditures, including the start up of the school. The state will give $25,000 per student for operating expenses, and about $7,000 to $8,000 will come from the student's home school district.

The gift might be the largest single gift to one public school in the state. "I would think it is probably the largest," said Betsy Nelson, executive director of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and several local foundations donated $20 million over five years to reform a dozen of Baltimore's struggling high schools. And the Baltimore School for the Arts has received single donations of more than $1 million, but never a multimillion-dollar donation.


The gift is even relatively sizable compared with single donations to independent schools in Baltimore. Private donors have given the Bryn Mawr School slightly more than $1 million recently and the Gilman School $10 million. Perhaps the largest gift was a $20 million matching gift to McDonogh School. Those types of gifts are usually from donors who have a close relationship to the school.

Challenges ahead

The SEED Foundation has some challenges ahead before the Maryland school opens. It must find a site, raise additional money and hire staff, said Adler.

The foundation has identified two acceptable locations and is negotiating with the city government. One of the sites, he said, is a city school that is scheduled to be closed.

The school is looking for a temporary site where it could open and stay for the first year or two while a permanent home is being built.

When the school opens in 2008, it will start with a class of 80 sixth-graders and add another class each year. The school plans to have about 400 students when it has added all the grades through high school.


The SEED Foundation has begun to advertise for a head of school, a process that Adler said he expects to take at least six months. The head would be hired at least a year before the school opens.

And then there is the additional $25 million to be raised, but Modell said she is very hopeful that the gift will encourage others to make pledges.

The school will be one of the only public schools in the country built for low-income urban students, but it may have company in the next few years.

The SEED Foundation's success with its school in Washington has spurred it to try to start others. Adler said the group is beginning to develop plans for a second campus in D.C. In addition, it is working on legislation in California and Wisconsin and someday hopes to spread to New Jersey and Ohio.