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Green Street Academy students hear about producing fish feed from algae from Wendell Leimbach of Clean Green Chesapeake, a local biotech firm.
Green Street Academy students hear about producing fish feed from algae from Wendell Leimbach of Clean Green Chesapeake, a local biotech firm. (Olga Maltseva, Green Street Academy/Camden Partners)

A recent audit and a separate consultant report have demonstrated that the Baltimore City Public School System is failing students with its vocational program offerings and paths to solid, family-sustaining employment.

“We’re giving kids in certain high schools certificates that do not enable them to earn a family-sustaining wage,” schools CEO Sonja Santileses said at a heated school board meeting, clearly frustrated. Meanwhile, at typically higher-performing high schools with entrance criteria, more potentially lucrative career track programs are offered, and students ultimately earn more.

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“This signals we have been kidding ourselves that our [Career and Technical Education] programs are opening up opportunities,” CEO Santileses continued. “They are merely a reflection of a caste system of education.”

As the district prepares to address these pressing CTE issues, Ms. Santileses needs to travel no further than 6 miles west from the high-performing Baltimore Polytechnic Institute to view a model school. Green Street Academy, a Baltimore City-authorized public charter middle-high school with no entrance criteria, has been successfully addressing CTE “learning to work” opportunities for students since 2010. Currently enrolling 850 students, GSA was designed to transform how students prepare for college and careers in the 21st century through the lens of environmental, human and personal economic sustainability. The resulting academic and career preparation pathway strategies, CollegeBound Foundation counseling, and GSA’s internal Internship and Career Engagement Program have produced significant outcomes for our first three graduating classes: a 98% graduation rate in 2019, a significant level of post-secondary education acceptances (including Morehouse College; University of Maryland, College Park; and Goucher College, among others), and admissions to career-track corporate, vocational, trade and military programs. According to outgoing school board chair, Cheryl Casciani, GSA has “nailed the middle and high school thing.”

New chickens arrived last week at Green Street Academy in West Baltimore, a symbolic moment after vandals killed the school's previous chickens. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

At GSA, the process begins when middle school students transition from entry-level project-based learning and entrepreneurship activities into our career track-specific high school, where they select from a variety of sustainability-oriented pathways: construction design and management, environmental science and urban agriculture, and health care. Underlying all of the career tracks is a technology platform that enables students to prepare for certifications, internships and careers. Many industry partners, including Constellation Energy; the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Forestry Service; the University of Maryland, Baltimore; Johns Hopkins University and others have stepped forward to assist the school’s instructional team with creating the content and refining the curriculum they consider vital for success in future careers.

To activate our founding strategy, GSA privately financed and renovated a 1920s-era, 8-acre, $23 million campus in West Baltimore in 2015. Now operating in the second largest LEED Platinum school campus in the world, also recently recognized as the national “Green School of the Year” by the U.S. Green Building Council, GSA has positioned itself to inspire young minds for decades to come and offer students and their families long-term pathways to success. Within those pathways, some recent notable highlights include:

  • GSA’s Internship and Career Engagement Program placed over 350 students in paid internships in 2019, including 90% of our senior class, and has prepared our interns to earn cumulatively more than $1 million since the program’s inception;
  • GSA’s state-of-the-art health care education suite recently received its approval from the Maryland Board of Nursing to offer entry-level CNA certifications to our students;
  • GSA’s urban agriculture program was recently granted a $300,000 commercial greenhouse, commercial kitchen and entrepreneurial incubation lab to encourage agriculture-related student ventures;
  • GSA’s urban agriculture students have created food computers, courtesy of MIT, to simulate growing conditions for various vegetables, as well as cultivated and sold vegetables and flowers through our existing GSA Farms' greenhouse and recently in partnership with Urban Pastoral at R. House, a food hall in Baltimore City;
  • GSA’s construction design and management students, working toward enterprise-level certifications, are participating in the coming school year’s ACE Mentor program in which architecture, construction and engineering community mentors pair with students to explore career possibilities in the building professions through hands-on projects.

If the school district plans to re-think its CTE strategy and consider some alternative approaches to engaging students, Green Street Academy, a participating partner in the Baltimore City Public School System, would welcome the opportunity to share what we’ve learned with Ms. Santileses, her staff and the Board of School Commissioners.

Lawrence Rivitz (larryrivitz@gmail.com) and David Warnock (dwarnock@camdenpartners.com) are co-founders and co-chairs of Green Street Academy.

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