Baltimore can do better for its foster youth [Letter]

Your report about Baltimore City foster care youth sent to earn high school diplomas at Philadelphia's Crooked Places Christian academy "made straight" a dilemma that the City Council's Education Committee and its partners have long anticipated and struggled to resolve ("Baltimore foster care youths get diploma in a day in Philadelphia," Nov. 23).

As the state phases in a law requiring either a diploma or school attendance until age 18, hundreds of our older students lack flexible alternatives for graduating from high school — alternatives that accommodate and respect their adult roles as parents, family providers, sibling caregivers and employees.

Many of Baltimore's older youth struggle to accommodate these adult roles while fitting themselves into the public school system's shrinking number of alternative education programs. Meanwhile, the GED program offers only limited partnership options to the public schools, and the state fails to recognize the certified GED pathway to graduation as meeting its attendance mandate.

For 30 years, the Community School in Remington has educated teen-age high school dropouts in preparation for GED testing, followed by immediate transfer to our local community colleges. Because of the institution's one-room-schoolhouse training, most graduates have been able to skip the community colleges' remedial courses and immediately advance to for-credit course work.

By 2015, however, as mandatory attendance rises from age 16 to 18, so many Community School students would become law-breakers that the school has given up the GED pathway and become a state-certified private high school, able to serve a maximum of only a dozen or so older students at a time.

What Crooked Places Made Straight has made clear is our state's responsibility to break down the silos separating the Maryland State Department of Education, the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation, local public school systems, the GED corporation and the state Department of Social Services. It is Maryland's responsibility to forge game-changing pathways to success for our older youth. We can certainly do better than giving them a one-day trip for an out-of-state diploma.

Mary Pat Clarke, Baltimore

The writer chairs the Baltimore City Council's Education & Youth Committee.

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