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Baltimore City College students 'crushed it'

Maybe Donald Trump is right. Maybe it is all fake news. The running narrative these days seems to be that public schools can't get their collective acts together. Dilapidated buildings, mishandled budgets, violent students and teachers who babysit all day is becoming the perception of public schools across the country. Ask any teacher from across this city and they would talk your ear off about why everything you've heard thus far is wrong. I know it is because I see it every day at Baltimore City College.

Just recently, I was at lacrosse practice when I heard my players murmuring as they started warmups. The murmurs turned to squeals of joy as the girls sprinted over to hug a senior on our team. She had just shared the good news: She had been accepted to Harvard. But not just Harvard, she had also been accepted into Washington University in St. Louis, Stanford and had been offered a full academic scholarship to the University of Maryland. This is on top of already having been accepted as an early applicant to Yale. We were beyond excited. But she isn't the only reason we were so elated. The entire school has reason to celebrate.

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A colleague of mine looked over the data of this year's senior class, and it is truly remarkable. The top 10 percent of our senior class (roughly 30 students) has been accepted into many of the top tier colleges across the country: Amherst, Michigan, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, Brown and Columbia among many others. But it's not just our very top students. Last year Baltimore City College had a 99 percent college acceptance rate with a graduating class of over 320 students. The majority of these students have attended Baltimore City Public schools for their entire academic careers and come to us from middle schools across the city including Hampstead Hill and Mt. Royal among others.

Our school has made it a priority to serve all of our student communities. We have expanded our IB program each of the last five years in our mission to make our school "IB for All," and the proof is in the results. This year our graduating students of color have been accepted into: Howard, Georgetown, Dickinson, Spelman, Bowdoin, Grinnell, UMBC, Morehouse, Wake Forest and Temple among others. None of this is a coincidence. Our teachers and administration spend countless hours mentoring our students and establishing relationships to help our students meet the challenges set for them. In addition, we have a full-time college advising office dedicated to making sure our families are prepared for the college process. This is exceedingly important when our student population is over 60 percent Free and Reduced Meals (FARMS) eligible, many of whom will be first generation college attendees.

Recently in my IB History of the Americas class I held a discussion on U.S. and Canadian domestic policies during the Cold War. I listened as my students debated using textual evidence, posing as experts on the subject. On one end of the room was a half-Asian, half-white 17-year-old, who seemed ready to take on the world — the same student who had so excitedly told her teammates of her acceptance to Harvard. And on the other end of the room was a black 17-year-old boy, with gold fronts in his mouth, who had talked to me about how City made it OK for him to be smart. He will be the first on his father's side of the family to attend college, entering Lincoln University this fall. They were both well prepared, and they both crushed it. The fact that I could have students from such divergent backgrounds share the same academic space, be held to the same rigorous standards and watch them both succeed is one of the things I love most about Baltimore City College.

The truth is that there are no simple solutions to the problems that face our public schools today. But painting the picture that they are all rife with problems is both unfair and inaccurate. For over 175 years Baltimore City College has worked to prepare Baltimore students to attend the best colleges across the country, and despite all of the severe challenges we face, our school is continuing to do just that. We call ourselves "The Castle on the Hill," and we hope to serve as a model for other public schools to follow by using rigor, care and a sense of community to help our students be their best selves. Maybe then we could get some real news coverage about what happens in our schools.

Sedrick Smith is chair of the social studies department and a varsity girls soccer and lacrosse coach at Baltimore City College and an affiliate faculty member of literarcy education at Loyola University of Maryland; his email is sedricksmith@gmail.com.

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