Climbing the Steps to High School


School has begun, and, if you’re like me, you’re probably still helping your kid put the finishing touches on book reports and finish the dreaded summer math. You’re arguing about whether she needs a brand-new tin of $40 colored pencils, or whether his backpack from last year has some cool left.

And, if your kid is entering the eighth grade, you’re panicking with each mail retrieval of glossy brochures and postcards announcing the open houses of every high school in a 30-mile radius. Each school boasts about its academics, its sports, and its technologies. Some institutions show off their lush campuses; others, their well-adjusted students.

The latest mailing on my kitchen table is an oversized postcard from Maryvale. On the front, two girls—a white one in a sweatshirt that says “we are” and a black one in a sweatshirt that says “maryvale”—seem overjoyed to participate in this racially balanced school with a “new turf field, track and practice fields” and “school-wide iPad grogram.” My eyes go naturally to the bottom bullets: financial aid and County transportation.

Many of my friends have done this before. “It’s worse than college,” Andrea Dixon tells me. Her daughter, Margot, is in my daughter’s eighth grade class. We are sitting with 20 other moms and dads at our children’s desks for this mandatory meeting, where parents of eighth graders will learn the high school application process.

Andrea’s been through this nightmare before with her older son. She rolls her eyes: “The pressure, the financial applications, the waiting.” And what makes it even more rotten is that every eighth grader in the vicinity is applying to all the same schools at the same time, and all their acceptance letters are mailed out on the same day.

Mary Carol Lidinsky, our kids’ homeroom teacher, has prepared a handout to help us with the process, which includes school selection, paperwork, test prep, open houses, shadowing, school fairs, up to three different kinds of testing, deadlines, fees—my head is swirling.

If you break it down, it sounds less daunting. After all, you’ve been giving it quite a bit of thought at the dinner table for the last two years. I know that our discussions have helped to narrow our focus—away from Catholic schools and toward a couple of City schools.

You’ll make choices based on a number of factors. How close is it? How big is it? Who teaches there? What’s the curriculum? We are looking specifically for schools with a good music department. We hear McDonough has an excellent program, and they send a bus to our neighborhood. Those details push that school to our top choices. Other top choices for us are Baltimore School For the Arts, where Serena has been attending TWIGS for saxophone, and City College. With her excellent grades thus far, a City graduation could mean free college tuition at Johns Hopkins University through the Baltimore Scholars Program—a detail that pushes the BSA to the top of the school heap.

Ready or not, here are the steps necessary for the high school application.

Step 1: Attend High School Fairs

Don’t have a clue where you want to send your kid? Have many clues but want more options? At a fair, you can get visit a dozen schools at once. The Catholic Archdiocese has at least 19 fairs between now and the second week of October.

Non-Catholic private schools also show at fairs, and Baltimore City’s “Choice” fair is held this year on November 19.

Step 2: Attend Open Houses

Narrow your choices, and head to some open houses. You can search for your school’s open house date online (or call the school). How many open houses you attend is up to you.

Step 3: Shadow

Pick your final three schools together, and schedule a date for your son or daughter to shadow—that is: follow another student around his or her school. Be sure your date does not conflict with important dates at your own school (field trips, testing). Your child should be prepared to be interviewed, too! Finally, for a more realistic picture of the school, shadowing is best done without a friend; having that camaraderie could make the school seem more fun or more friendly than it really is.

Though it’s only a day, shadowing is the best way for your child to decide whether she can spend the next four years there. Don’t be surprised if his favorite school makes him uncomfortable or her last choice becomes her favorite. (And don’t expect a clear explanation for the change of heart!)

Step 4: Paperwork and Deadlines

If organization is not your strong suit, this is the time to get a calendar—and panic. You’ll need to fill out applications—and your child will probably need to write an essay—for each of the schools you’ve selected. You’ll also need letters of recommendation, copies of transcripts, and application fees (about $50 for each school). And your child will need to take the required High School entrance tests.

Letters of Recommendation:

Give your teacher enough time! Remember: the other 20-plus kids in the class could be asking for letters, too. Provide teachers with pre-addressed, stamped envelopes. And help them with the recommendation process by preparing some background. Mrs. Lidinsky recommends detailing the following: School Activities (sports, clubs, student council); Leadership
Qualities or Roles; Outside Activities (sports, clubs, groups); Special Talents and Hobbies; Service Projects and Volunteer Work. Finally, include a list of qualities others see in you that would benefit a high school.

Note that City, private, and religious schools all have different application processes. While your teacher can mail letters of recommendation for you to private schools, you’ll have to send them to City schools yourself—along with proof of residency.


The High School Placement Test for Catholic Schools (HSPT) is given on December 3rd and December 10th. The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is given on multiple dates in multiple locations. City schools also have their own criteria and tests. Of course, each test has a different study guide, and those textbooks are recommended.

Financial Aid:

If you’ve been keeping yourself in the dark about tuition costs, now’s a good time for a reality check—and half your paycheck. McDonough, my kid’s top private school choice, is in the $25,000 range. That annual tuition doesn’t include books, musical instruction, field trips, and other miscellaneous expenses (for some other fancy private school, a nice wardrobe that won’t subject your kid to ridicule; for McDonogh, uniforms).

But don’t let the price tag frighten you. Though you will be applying for financial aid through an independent agency, many high schools have additional monies to spend on the right student. High school application forms often ask what you think you’re able to spend, taking into
consideration help you might receive from grandparents and other sources.

If they want what your child has to offer, schools will give you additional support.

Step 5: Wait—Patiently or Otherwise

You’ll likely spend a good bit of time on the phone making sure all those separately mailed documents—test scores, letters of recommendation, transcripts—have reached the schools. It’s not uncommon for these important items to be misplaced, so get to know your school administrators (in a good way). Acceptance letters are usually mailed at the end of March.

By the end of our meeting in Mrs. Lidinsky’s Homeroom, I am overwhelmed but ready to make my lists and fill out my applications and schedule all the open house visits and shadowing and testing and—who am I kidding? I’m ready for a beer and a nap.

Before we get up, Andrea and I each tuck love letters to our daughters in their desks for them to find on Friday. We’ve been doing that for nine years at this school, in every classroom, on every floor, as we have attended report card conferences and meet-the-teacher nights, our adult-size behinds spilling over their tiny chairs, our big knees banging on their low tables.

Now here we are talking about high schools. When did our children’s desks grow so big?

Online cheat sheet for parents of soon-to-be high schoolers:

For information about applying to Baltimore City public high schools, go here. For a list of open houses at Baltimore Independent Schools go here. For information about Baltimore area Catholic schools, here. For the AIMS Baltimore-Area Independent School Fair, click here. And for ISEE test dates, visit here.

Redefining Maryland’s Libraries


It’s not only the availability of pre-loaded e-readers that marks twenty-first century libraries. In and around Baltimore, the venerated cultural institution is undergoing an extreme makeover.

Amid the disorienting and relentless telecommunication revolution, the lending library reflect an downright quaint system of data storage and retrieval. When you can store thousands of books’ worth of text on a single computer harddrive, what’s a library for?

Libraries across Maryland are finding solutions that both embrace the tech revolution and fend off its most insidious side effect, isolation, by redefining the library’s role as a community gathering place.

According to The Sun, Ellicott City’s new library comes with a 3,000 square-foot meeting room, and Enoch Pratt’s Southeast Anchor Branch in Baltimore City is getting a café. In addition, several libraries are outfitting wi-fi stations with more electrical outlets and desk space to accommodate patrons’ notebook computers.

Though I lament the slow, painful death of the book, it’s inspiring to see the state’s libraries adapting to survive in the modern world and realizing that education, art, and community transcend technology.

The Nation’s Most Expensive Private School


Private school tuition is an expensive privilege no matter the location, but some tuition bills are higher than others. This summer, we looked at tuition rates at area private schools and found that Baltimore private school tuition averages at about $23,000.

That’s a great deal compared to the nearly $40,000 price tag at the country’s most expensive private schools listed by Business Insider.  Take a peek and tell us: How much is too much?

Fashion’s Night Out Gets A Little More Charming This Year


When Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour launched Fashion’s Night Out in 2009, the industry revival initiative centered mostly in New York, with smaller echoes in major hubs like Los Angeles and Miami.  Since then, the September celebration of fashion has taken off throughout the country, and this year, its official presence will be felt in Baltimore.  

This Thursday, September 8th, the city’s retailers will join the fashion retail promotion with after-hours events to encourage customers to get shopping.  Marking the Baltimore’s inaugural official participation, the non-profit Baltimore Fashion Alliance will host a celebration at the Harbor Court Hotel with up to 40 Baltimore-based designers, manufacturers, and retailers on display.  

The BFA is also encouraging retailers city-wide to remain open after hours, and many retailers have taken note.  Downtown, Cupcake Boutique will be selling the official FNO tee-shirts and will feature a Black Halo trunk show as well as giveaways and added shopping incentives.  Fells Point’s Babe A Boutique is offering 10% off all merchandise store-wide.  Across town in Towson, The Shops at Kenilworth will join the festivities with in-store events, cocktails, and discounts throughout the shopping center.  At Towson Town Center, stores will display trunk shows, refreshments, and shopping incentives.  What’s more, the mall will put on a fashion show and offer exclusive giveaways, prizes, cocktails, and cosmetic bars.  At Green Spring Station in Lutherville, Fresh! Boutique will host a daytime Lionette trunk show from 1:00pm to 5:00pm. The shopping center will also stay open until 7:00pm with champagne and treats.

Reports have been mixed regarding whether Fashion’s Night Out has been a financial success in years past, but there is no question that as far as brand recognition and foot traffic, FNO is tremendously powerful.  The official presence of the initiative in Baltimore should prove to be at least a new way to tackle fall shopping, if not a shot to the arm to the local fashion retailers.

Grand Prix Recap: One Baltimore Spectator’s Varied POV


After weeks of hype, headaches and heated bickering, the Baltimore Grand Prix is in the history books. Massive crowds turned out (somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 depending on whether you’re talking to police or Grand Prix officials), and, despite not having an official analysis of the fiscal numbers available, city officials are already declaring the Labor Day weekend event a success.

The jury will be out for some time as to whether the race served as a financial boon for the city, but as an event, it was worthwhile, if not without its headaches. As a first time IndyCar spectator and Baltimore sports fan, here’s are some lessons I learned attending this year’s race:

Yes, it’s a party, but make the racing the focus. The Baltimore Grand Prix boasted beer gardens, local celebrity appearances (hey, Michael Phelps!) and a full concert series, but the cars are the reason to go. I’m not a gear-head by any means, but I was in awe of the power of Sunday’s IndyCars and Saturday’s American Le Mans Series vehicles as they burned down Pratt Street. Double points for buying paddock pad tickets, which provided an inside view with all the race teams.

Make new friends, especially with the hardcore race aficionados. My tickets were in Grandstand 6, with a nice sight line of the Pratt Street straight away and a view of Light Street at the infamous Turn 1. The folks around me were big race fans, and talking and listening to them made it much easier to follow the action.

Even if you’re not going to the race, don’t be afraid to go downtown. As a daily commuter with a downtown parking pass, I was able to make it from North Baltimore to the Pier V garage in 10 minutes, faster than my regular workday drive. Anyone who wanted to take a trip to East Baltimore could have done so with ease. Precautions were understandable this year, but in the future the city will need to make sure those businesses in neighborhoods like Fell’s Point, Canton and Little Italy aren’t compromised by unwarranted traffic fears.

Improving logistics will be key to this event’s future. I arrived a few hours before the main event Sunday, and made it through the Inner Harbor’s Light Street pavilion entrance in 15 minutes. Others I spoke to, however, were stuck in entrance/exit lines for hours, waiting for police to let them through. There were fan reports of issues with VIP tickets and amenities, and other reports of grandstands missing entire rows of seats.  As a first-year event, these types of issues are inevitable. Fans won’t be so forgiving if these issues occur again in 2012.

The Best College in the WORLD is…


Sometimes being the best in the country just doesn’t feel… impressive enough, which must be why the QS World University Rankings exist. If you’ve ever had the sneaking suspicion that Harvard isn’t quite as #1 as it seems to think it is, well, you were right; the top-ranking school in the world is, once again, Cambridge.  (Rounding out the top 5:  Harvard, MIT, Yale, and Oxford.) Baltimore’s very own Johns Hopkins is the 16th best school in the world, which sounds very nice indeed.

This year, the organization included a new and upsetting feature — well, upsetting if you’re paying for college in the U.S., that is — where you can compare international universities by both rank and tuition costs. #1 (Cambridge) costs around $15,000/year for domestic undergrads, and $5,000 (!) for post-grads. (No, that last figure is not missing a zero.) The #2 school, Harvard, runs around $39,000 for undergrads and $37,000 for post-grads. It’s enough to make you consider moving to England.

More sticker shock from survey organizers:  “In Paris, École normale supérieure ENS, ranked 33rd, and Ecole Politechnique ranked 36th both offer undergraduate courses for less than a $1000 and Postgraduate courses for less than $8,000. In Germany, the highest ranked universities are; University of Heidelberg at 53rd and Technical University of Munich at 54th in the world, each charging less than $2000 for domestic and EU citizens.”

View the complete rankings here, and a discussion of survey methodology here.

SlutWalk Baltimore: The New Face of Feminism?


The SlutWalk movement — and its supporters, critics, critical supporters, and supportive critics —  has twisty, turny story that began when a Toronto police officer suggested that women were getting assaulted because they were dressing like “sluts.” In an attempt to reclaim the word and affirm women’s right to wear whatever they feel like wearing, some Canadian feminists created SlutWalk Toronto — a protest against victim blaming combined with a celebration of personal empowerment. 

As the movement’s organizers put it
, “We are tired… of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence… No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.  We are a movement demanding that our voices be heard. We are here to call foul on our Police Force and demand change.”

The first SlutWalk drew a few thousand protesters, and similar marches followed in London, San Francisco, Melbourne… all around the world, really. And now, thanks to a group of dedicated local activists, it’s Baltimore’s turn. SlutWalk Baltimore is scheduled for noon on September 17, starting at the Inner Harbor and ending in front of City Hall.

A protest calling for an end to victim-blaming and exposing the hypocrisy of some police officers seems particularly appropriate here, as Baltimore’s police force recently made national news for under-reporting rapes. But the SlutWalk movement is not without its critics (read a round-up of critical viewpoints here). As Rebecca Traister recently wrote in the New York Times, “But at a moment when questions of sex and power, blame and credibility, and gender and justice are so ubiquitous and so urgent, I have mostly felt irritation that stripping down to skivvies and calling ourselves sluts is passing for keen retort.”

Where do you stand on the SlutWalk phenomenon: liberating or reactionary?

Dario’s Party


Cocktails with Dario Franchitti, Radcliffe Jewelers, September 1

We weren’t very psyched about the Grand Prix, what with the cutting of the trees and the noise and the inconvenience. But we’ll concede that it seems like the weekend was a success: the bars and restaurants were packed, the hotels were sold out Friday and Saturday nights and the city got a public relations boost. If we have to have it (and with a five year contract, we do) better for it to succeed than fail.

One big success came Friday night. Racing’s striking star Dario Franchitti stepped out that night after practice to mix and mingle at Radcliffe Jewelers in Pikesville with jewelry lovers and race car driving fans to raise money for the The Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai. 

Five Minutes with Dario Franchitti

Have you ever had a speeding ticket?

I’v had a couple.

Would you mind telling me how fast you were going?

 I’d rather not.

What do you find most annoying about regular drivers?

When drivers are not paying attention. It doesn’t matter if you are going 30 (mph) or 120, you need to focus and not talk on the phone.

What is your pre-race routine? 

About an hour before the race, I try to clear my head. I do some stretching and spend time getting focused on the race.

Do you have a favorite movie of your wife Ashley Judd?

Well, I think they are all pretty good.



Sartorial Baltimorial Picks Prix Party Pics 





National Pinball Museum Leaves DC for Baltimore


Baltimore’s affordability may be attracting more than just twenty-something artists and scenemakers. David Silverman plans to move his National Pinball Museum here from DC this fall. In an interview with The Sun, Silverman said that after he lost his lease at his Georgetown location he couldn’t find anything in the DC area that fit his budget.

If lease negotiations work out, the National Pinball Museum will set up its interactive exhibits of hundreds of historical and modern pinball machines just north of the Inner Harbor. And we’ll be able to credit Baltimore’s affordability with one more little cultural coup.

Silverman’s quirky and mildly-obsessive museum (whose mission statement calls pinball “a looking glass of culture”) will fit perfectly in a city known for celebrating otherwise marginalized art (see American Visionary Art Museum) and even kitsch (see most of Hampden).

The Last Days of the Summer Uniform


Katie, 16, and Kyle, 14, Callahan 

Brother and sister Katie and Kyle take advantage of the last few carefree days before school starts. Her cute flip-flops and bubble gum pink polish and his shorts and shaggy hair make us wistful for another summer gone by too fast. They look like two lost surfers.

In fact, he just came from football practice. She’s a gymnast with Rebounders.

We’re not getting the black-socks-with-shorts trend, but we understand it’s big with Baltimore upper school boys. Of course, we wouldn’t let our husbands step out in this look but, hey, it’s cute on Kyle.


Ready to go back to school?

Katie: No. I won’t see my friends as much.

Kyle: Too much work.


Do you like fashion? You are so little and lean!

I am a gymnast. And I love fashion — dresses, jeans tanks.


What don’t you like to wear?

My uniform. I go to Roland Park Country School.


How about you, Kyle? Nice socks! Fashion statement?

No. I just got out of football practice. It’s all I had in my locker.


Are you all ready for summer to end?

Katie: No, but I will be hitting the vault and the uneven bars and the floor!