When my daughter was a freshman in high school, she shared a particularly uplifting experience from history class one day. In the middle of a lesson, a senior barged into the classroom with tears in his eyes and handed the teacher a letter. A smile spread across the teacher's face as he read in silence. The teacher then turned to the class and announced that the student had just received a full scholarship to an excellent college. The teen pointed toward the window and whispered, to the teacher, "If it hadn't been for you and this school, I'd be out on those streets selling drugs."
My daughter, now attending Johns Hopkins University as a Baltimore Scholar, attended Baltimore City College High School, and like the student who earned the scholarship, benefited from the well-regarded International Baccalaureate Program there. Our son, who likewise graduated from City's IB program, is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, and he repeatedly tells us how well prepared he is for demanding college classes. This rigorous program not only challenges students academically and prepares them for college curriculums; it opens doors that would otherwise be closed.
As the parent of two children who graduated from City with IB diplomas, and as an informal volunteer, having helped several City students with the college application process, I know first-hand the benefits of such programs — not just for the students but for Baltimore City. Yet each year it seems, there are budget cuts and threats of more cuts. Each year, as a result of possible cuts, students who might otherwise attend City — or Baltimore Polytechnic Institute with its Ingenuity program — opt out if they can, by attending private schools or moving to the county. Each year the threat of eliminating or diminishing IB and Ingenuity looms, and those of us who recognize the programs' far-reaching advantages hold our collective breath.
How do we convince a school board, a city, a government and fellow taxpayers that the IB and Ingenuity programs are critical? The returns on investing in such programs are clear. Not only do these programs create opportunities for students; these same students often return to serve our city. During a commencement speech at Morehouse College last spring, President Barack Obama singled out a graduating senior, Leland Shelton, who overcame daunting odds of poverty and became the first in his family to attend college. Mr. Shelton, a 2009 graduate of City who took advantage of the IB program, is now attending Harvard Law School and plans to return and "give back" to Baltimore City. J.D. Merrill, another 2009 graduate of City's IB program, joined Teach for America upon graduating from Davison College and chose to return to Baltimore City College High School, where he is completing his first year as a teacher. Celia Neustadt graduated from the IB program at City in 2007, attended Pomona College in California, and came home to Baltimore City to establish and run the Inner Harbor Project, through which inner city students work together to envision and plan for a safer Baltimore.
Moreover, because the IB and Ingenuity programs are available, Baltimore City benefits from involved residents who might otherwise live elsewhere. These families make conscious decisions to live in and contribute to Baltimore City solely because of the opportunities afforded by the IB program at City and the Ingenuity program at Poly. Joshua Spokes, who graduated from the Ingenuity Program at Poly, while living in the county, received multiple scholarships and is now a freshman in the engineering school at the University of Maryland. As the opportunity to send students from the county to Poly and City became less viable in recent years, Mr. Spoke's parents decided to move into the city so that another son could attend Poly and take advantage of the Ingenuity program. This family, and others who make a conscious choice to remain in Baltimore, are committed to the city, to increase its tax base and to enhance its schools, because they know their children will receive top-notch educations at City and Poly, and they recognize the opportunities that lie ahead for graduates of the IB and Ingenuity programs.
Anybody who cares about Baltimore City should be talking about raising funds for IB and Ingenuity — not decreasing programs that already operate on shoestring budgets. We need to recognize that when it comes to IB and Ingenuity, a rising tide truly lifts all boats.