For Renaissance Academy, another loss to violence

A West Baltimore teenager died Monday after being shot several times on a street corner less than two miles from his old high school, where counselors again prepared to provide grief counseling for students.

The death of Daniel Jackson, 17, marked the third time in three months that a teenage boy who had attended Baltimore Renaissance Academy was killed. Jackson was enrolled at the high school until November, when he stopped showing up and was dropped from the rolls, school officials confirmed.


Officials at Renaissance, a close-knit school that brings in outside partners to mentor students and tracks their progress into college or a career, said Jackson's death was another tragedy in an already devastating school year. They say the deaths highlight the challenges faced by students growing up in one of the city's most impoverished and violent areas.

In January, Renaissance student Darius Bardney, a 16-year-old school officials say they knew as Darius Barney, was killed in what police have described as an accidental shooting in an apartment building.


In December, 17-year-old Ananias Jolley died from stabbing injuries he suffered at the hands of another student in a classroom at the school in November, police said. Donte Crawford, 17, has been charged with first-degree murder in that incident.

"What these events show us is that living in a neighborhood affected by extreme poverty, affected by constant community violence, means we have to provide additional protections for the students in school, after school, during the summer," said Rachel Donegan, program director of Promise Heights, the school's community partner at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

She called the death of another student with ties to the school "a lot," and said school officials are worried the deaths and violence will wear on students' psyches.

"The fear is people become numb to the violence, and students, because they are young, start to feel like their choices will not make a difference, that the violence will get them anyway and that they don't have personal control over their destiny," Donegan said. "It is our job to help them realize they do have choices."

Police did not release Jackson's identity until after school ended Monday, and counselors prepared that night for the grief-stricken students that they expected to encounter Tuesday, Donegan said. While Jackson had dropped out, he still associated with many of the students and staff.

Donegan said school officials learned of Jackson's killing just as they were sending another student off to the White House to participate in President Barack Obama's My Brother's Keeper program, designed to keep youths on track for college or employment and a way into the middle class.

Police said Jackson lived in the Penrose/Fayette Street Outreach neighborhood of West Baltimore. Outside the home Monday evening, a crowd had gathered. Several women who identified themselves as members of Jackson's family said they were not ready to talk about his death.

Police said an officer on patrol in the 1500 block of W. Baltimore St. around 10:15 a.m. Monday heard gunshots coming from the intersection of West Baltimore and North Monroe streets. When he arrived at the intersection, he found Jackson with gunshot wounds.


Jackson was taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was pronounced dead.

The intersection, a block from Bon Secours Hospital, was closed to traffic for about two hours as detectives scoured the area for evidence. The homes on the north side of the block are owned by the hospital and rented as apartments to low- and moderate-income families.

The police investigation centered around the steps and front yard of a home on the northwest corner of the intersection, at the end of the row, marked with a blue Bon Secours Apartments placard.

At least 15 yellow evidence markers were placed in the front yard, on the steps and on the sidewalk around the home. One rested on a first-floor windowsill. A small pool of blood darkened a patch of dirt to the left of the steps. A crime scene technician snapped pictures.

Police have not released any other details about the shooting, including a possible motive or any suspects. Anyone with information is asked to call 410-396-2100 or Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-7-LOCKUP.

Antonio Hammock, a 29-year-old father of three young children who lives in the home's first-floor apartment, was disturbed about the shooting outside his front door, though he wasn't home at the time. Hammock said he has lost family members to violence, grew up with it all around him and fears letting his own children outside.


"Now that I have my own kids, I don't want them seeing the same thing," he said. "It's not normal. It's not a normal life."

Hammock said he has coached youth football for the past seven years to try to do his part to show kids a different path, but often he hears a sense of hopelessness from his players — that violence is just a part of life. He wishes there were more recreational and educational programs in the city, he said, because Baltimore youths are desperate for such opportunities.

"The kids don't feel like they have a future. It's all over the city. It's crazy," he said. "You gotta make the kids feel like they're a part of something positive. They don't feel like they're a part of anything. They wake up not knowing whether they'll live to see another day."

In many ways, Renaissance has tried to provide its students that sort of positive attitude, and with some success, attracting a number of supporters.

After several pastors and the University of Maryland School of Social Work mobilized last November to protest a recommendation from district staff to close Renaissance, city schools CEO Gregory Thornton decided to keep the school open.

Renaissance, the only high school in the Upton/Druid Heights neighborhood, has been lauded for its work helping students cope after the riots in April following the death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody.


By the end of last year, the school's dropout rate was lower than the citywide average. Its graduation rate was 3 percentage points below the citywide average at 66.7 percent.

Its test scores on new statewide tests, however, were far below the city and state averages. Two-thirds of students received a score of 1, the lowest score possible. And 30 percent of the school's 312 students are receiving special-education services, compared with 18 percent in the entire school system.

The school is one of five in the city that are part of the Promise Heights initiative, which is aimed at working with children and their families to provide services from birth to college or career.

Led by the School of Social Work, the initiative has put particular focus on helping African-American boys with intensive mentoring after school and in the summer. Four black men have worked as mentors with about 80 students at Renaissance.

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A recent survey of 209 students at the school found violence is prevalent in their lives: Forty-three percent said they witnessed physical violence at least once a week, and 39 percent said they knew someone who had been killed before they reached their 20th birthday.

Karen Webber, director of the Education and Youth Development program at the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, a former Baltimore principal and head of the Office of Student Support and Safety for Baltimore City's public schools, said Renaissance has a lot of students who are older and "borderline-engaged." The school also has students who have had dealings with the juvenile justice system.


"That not withstanding," she said, it is "very unusual" to have three students from the same school dying violently within a few months.

"Violence," she said, "is a reality we need to deal with head-on."

Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Prudente contributed to this article.