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BSA offers great support, but it's not for every student [Letter]

When I read Patricia Schultheis' recent commentary on Baltimore School for the Arts ("Who is responsible for Jabril?" May 19), I was saddened and frustrated. I was disappointed to hear that she, and the young man she spoke of, Jabril, had such a negative experience. I've taught U.S. History at BSA for the last three years, and I began the year after Jabril left. I can't speak on that particular incident, nor would it be appropriate for me to add to that conversation specifically. I can however, share my experiences, which differ significantly from hers.

In my time at BSA I've been impressed by the level of support that is available to struggling students. All Baltimore City Schools follow a protocol called the Student Support Team. In other environments I've seen the SST process become a compliance centered exercise, where schools do their "due diligence" in order to make sure that they can hold students back a grade. At BSA I've encountered in the SST a group of caring professionals who work hard to figure out the underlying issues that students face. BSA has even adapted the standard SST protocols to emphasize the questions we want to focus on in conversations with our students.

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In addition to teaching my classes, I also monitor our after school study hall, where struggling students work one-on-one with Honor Society tutors. This has been incredibly rewarding for students, and it's a place where they get the attention and academic help they need. I also spent last weekend with 20 students here at school, preparing for state standardized tests at BSA's twice-monthly Saturday School. Although 20 students may not seem like a lot, for teenagers on a Saturday, and for a school this size, it's impressive.

If Ms. Schultheis is trying to make the point that there aren't enough high schools in Baltimore offering a quality education, I agree with her. Recently, the interest group Maryland CAN released a report noting that none of the city's non-selective high schools have been able to raise the achievement of low income students above the state average. ( Ms. Schultheis and I are allies in the fight to increase the educational quality of Baltimore's schools. We're also likely allies on the issue that schools should have more social workers to help students meet with success. BSA shares our amazing social worker with another school that has around 1,300 students.

However, we're on opposite sides of the other issues she mentions. The school's high artistic standards are central to its mission, and it needs to accept the most talented pool of students possible. The way to get more city residents in our student body is to expand programs like TWIGs, and other city arts programming. As for criticism that the academic program was too rigorous, Lord of the Flies and pronouns in Spanish are reasonable targets for a ninth grade year. As a teacher I fundamentally disagree with the idea that academic standards should be lowered because of serious social and familial issues. Academic support (which the school provided in multiple forms) is a far better solution. Finally, I disagree which the underlying idea that just because BSA is a good school, it's the right school for every student. Spending at least 3 hours a day on art isn't for everyone, and students leave BSA for a number of personal reasons and find success in other environments.

I agree with Ms. Schultheis' assessment that it's frustrating that Jabril didn't meet with success at BSA. However, his high school graduation should be a time to celebrate his accomplishments, not reflect bitterly on what led to earlier failures. Failure is difficult for students, but it's a necessary part of their development. We're not teaching our kids to rebound from failure when we point fingers — rather we should be teaching them that every opportunity, whether it comes from BSA or Forest Park, should be grasped and held onto.

Cristina Duncan Evans, Baltimore

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To respond to this letter, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

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