Tag Archives: choice

School Choice Fair

Today was the Middle and High School Choice Fair, where 5th and 8th graders got to see the various options they have for middle and high schools in Baltimore.

Camden Yards

This year it was held at Camden Yards (where the Baltimore Orioles baseball team play) for the first time ever, instead of at a school. I signed up for a two-hour shift, from 12-2. Between finding parking, standing in line to go up by elevator, and walking through the various schools, I didn’t get to start recruiting for my school until 12:45. I don’t know why they didn’t open the stairs. At least it was a beautiful day!

Nice Day

And while we stood in line to go up, there was a marching band playing.

Marching Band

When I did join my school, it was a great time, talking about our amazing engineering program. We had run out of brochures before I got there, but I met some awesome eight graders who have an interest in engineering, and gave them my card and/or had them fill out a sheet for more information.

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Neighborhood Schools

A very interesting discussion about the need (or not) for neighborhood schools, including the tensions between short-term gain vs. long-term gain, and between community support vs. city-wide diversity, is going on. Started here, and jumped here. My comments can be found at the latter link.

PS – I always appreciate being challenged on my assumptions by reasonable people who are also invested in creating a good educational system. Thanks to those who have done so!

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At the Fair

Today was the School Choice Fair! 5th and 8th graders, along with their families, made the trek to Poly High School to learn about all the different high school and middle school options that Baltimore City Public Schools has to offer.

My school, Patterson High School, was there in full force. Our principal, academy principals, department heads, career and technology education (CTE) teachers , and students showed up to recruit new students to our school. One of our engineering students arrived at the Poly auditorium at 8:00 this morning, before any teachers or administrators! [The fair started at 9:00.] He helped set up and stayed all day promoting the school and our engineering program.

Our design technology teacher had created a booth/display with space for pictures, flyers, and a rear-projected screen. All the CTE programs and pathways had sent photos that had been compiled into a slideshow that would be projected onto that screen. Unfortunately, there were no electrical outlets available into which to plug the projector! Quite low-tech for a school named Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.

Our booth at the school choice fair

Our booth at the school choice fair

Luckily, many programs at Patterson had sent along brochures, large photos, posters, and display boards (the tri-fold type that reminds me of science fairs). Additionally: our EMT program had a CPR dummy and stretcher; our nail technology program had mannequin hands; and for our engineering program we brought robots, a bridge, a CNC-milled jewelry box, a bottle car, and a circuit board — all created by students.

I had a good time talking with parents and students about our school, its four career-themed academies, and our PLTW engineering pathway in particular. I encouraged interested kids to solve arithmetic problems that would move a calculator robot forward (or, if you get the question wrong, backward). I showed off our various props. And I advertised the other academies and CTE programs too, since Patterson has many great pathways to offer.

Next Tuesday and Wednesday, we get to sell our programs on a smaller scale, to our school’s ninth graders, at the CTE Expo. At the end of their ninth grade year, students at our school apply to the CTE pathway(s) of their choice. We are putting on this expo to showcase the various pathway options and recruit students. Wednesday is also our school’s open house (from 9:00-3:00), where middle schoolers and their parents are invited in to visit during the school day and shadow students in their classes.  So today was just the start to a whole week of school and CTE choice!

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The demise of middle schools?

On Saturday, April 10th, Baltimore City held its first ever Middle School Fair, where 5th graders this year have been able to choose from any school in the city which to attend next year. Note that some local weights are given to choices, and not every student will get their top pick. This new practice follows close on the heels of all high schools in the city recently becoming citywide ‘schools of choice’, instead of the old pattern where a few magnet or vocational high schools existed but most students attended their comprehensive neighborhood high school.

In looking through the city schools’ web guide to “Middle School Choice” and the brochure (pdf) used to advertise/inform about the new policy, I noticed that the trend of closing middle schools over the last few years has continued, and only five middle schools remain in the city! That is why I wonder if middle schools as a concept are disappearing from the Baltimore landscape.

When I began teaching four years ago at Patterson, a large neighborhood high school in southeast Baltimore, I asked my incoming ninth graders which middle schools they had attended. Highlandtown Middle, a common background for many of my students, was shut down that year. Canton Middle, from which many other Patterson students have come, began to be phased out around the same time and closed its doors at the end of my third year teaching. You may remember the controversy from wealthy neighbors about Baltimore’s decision to open a new school in Canton’s place. Southeast Middle, another former ‘feeder’ middle school for us, has since been closed too. Many of these schools, as well as those middle schools that have closed on the west side or northern parts of the city, have closed due to low test scores and/or citations as being persistently dangerous. This year, four more middle schools are being closed, leaving Baltimore with only five left in the entire city!

Of the five middle schools (grades 6-8) that remain, one is a charter school, while four are traditional neighborhood middle schools. Of those four, three are slated for some form of corrective action or improvement for next year, due to low test scores and low enrollment. Two are being partnered with an outside agency, and another is becoming a themed middle school while “increas[ing] the academic rigor” [quote from this article]. If these corrective actions do not result in large enough student gains in test scores, will those schools be closed too, leaving Baltimore’s school system without any middle?

So what is to become of the middle grades? Baltimore for a number of years has had, alongside its elementary school and middle school paths, a system of K-8 ‘elementary-middle schools’. These are still in place, where students stay in the same (hopefully nurturing) environment through their eighth grade year, then choose a high school. But the big new development promoted by Dr. Alonso, what has been replacing the middle schools over the last two years, is ‘transformation schools’.  These are grades 6-12 combination middle-high schools. My expectation is that, within a few years’ time, Baltimore will have two parallel systems, one with K-8 schools + choosing a standard 9-12 high school, and the other with K-5 traditional elementary schools + choosing a transformation 6-12 school.

As a Career & Tech Ed (CTE) teacher trying to recruit students into the fantastic engineering program at my (formerly-neighborhood) high school, these changes make it tougher to find students, especially since our program starts in the tenth grade. All of our feeder middle schools are closed, so the natural track into our school is gone, and we no longer have a large pool of ninth graders at our school from which to recruit into the 10th-12th grade engineering pathway. We have always sent representatives to the high school choice fair, but more clearly needs to be done to reach students at the eighth grade level or earlier.

So one thing we have been working on, today and tomorrow [our last day of school – hooray!], is preparing letters and information packets to send out. We plan on sending these tomorrow to every one of the few remaining middle schools, and to the K-8 schools. We figure it would be impolite to try and poach students from out the 6-12 schools :^) We’re hoping this will help spread the word about our engineering program, since many schools do not yet know of the great things we do. If we can find the time and resources, we would love to do follow-up visits to middle and K-8 schools next fall, bringing a group of students and some engineering projects to demonstrate to and interact with the kids!

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