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Teachers are on Baltimore's front lines

In the aftermath of Freddy Gray's death and the ensuing protests that made Baltimore the center of a national debate, our city, like many others, is taking a long look in the mirror. Opinions vary among politicians, grassroots activists and thought leaders on the solutions to some of our city's current challenges. Through the noise however, little has been heard from the people who've spent hundreds of hours, if not years, with many of the Baltimoreans on the nightly news: teachers. The classrooms of cities like Baltimore are the front lines in an attempt transform communities and change long-decided outcomes.

I have 15extensive years with Baltimore City Public Schools as a classroom teacher, support/mentor teacher and teacher associate, and seven plus years as the Teacher Chapter Chair for the Baltimore Teachers Union (BTU). My experience along with my passion for teaching inspires me to continue to push toward improving the overall state of education. Many of our students are faced with adversities which impede their abilities to learn. It is difficult and oftentimes extremely stressful to consistently provide viable supports for students and families. Over the years, I've come to realize it begins with small things such as care, guidance and support to motivate students to achieve their goals.

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Recently, economists pointed out that there are huge disparities in opportunities for success from community to community. Their analysis showed that Baltimore City was the worst at giving children an opportunity at the American Dream and earning a livable wage. This is unacceptable; we need a holistic and comprehensive approach that takes into account everything from policing, to health and parental support, and most importantly education, to truly bridge these gaps.

Today's teachers are more than educators. We are mentors, guidance counselors, and provide our students with a level of support that aims to enable their success. Sadly though, we often do this alone. With the proper supports of our own, teachers would be able to focus on their primary role, setting high expectations and challenging all students to reach their potential no matter their race, income level, or zip code.

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Baltimore City Public Schools have made concerted efforts to raise student achievement, improve graduation rates, and decrease student drop-out rates in recent years. To achieve these goals, BCPS recognized the need to raise expectations for all students. A report by the Center for American Progress highlights the impact that higher expectations can have on student's achievement and explains that teacher's expectations are better predictors of a student's postsecondary educational success. When teachers have high expectations, their students are three times more likely to graduate from college.

Over the last couple of weeks, the president dispatched his top cabinet officials for education and economics to Frederick Douglas High School, and the president's new attorney general, Loretta Lynch, visited the city. All of them signaled the federal government is ready and willing to help bring change to Baltimore and mentioned education. As a veteran teacher in the city, I am heartened to see such an emphasis on education at the highest levels, but we must continue to push for more resources, teacher voices in decision-making and sustained support from all levels of government if we want to see the dramatic change needed to address one of the root causes of the building anger that erupted here after Freddie Gray's death.

Efforts in Baltimore are starting to pay off: we are seeing higher graduation rates, fewer students dropping out of the schools, and more students at or above proficiency in math and reading. But there is still more work to be done, and more help needed. We need to invest in our schools and our students with the belief that they can and want to achieve more. It's time we demand each child have the same resources to maximize their potential and redirect the course of their life.

Kenya Campbell is a city schools associate in Baltimore City Public Schools.

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