Bringing Lacrosse to Baltimore’s Toughest Neighborhoods


A couple of years ago, Lacrosse Magazine ran a piece featuring two arguments on the exclusivity of lacrosse — one swearing it is, the other refuting the point.  The article surprised me.  It hadn’t occurred to me that the sport is seen as, well, controversially exclusive.  Further reflection led me to face facts that my lack of awareness was a result of my having been lucky enough to be included in the first place — I’ve played lacrosse since I was seven. 

Anyone active in the sport will tell you that lacrosse has come a long way in the last decade, and that’s true.  Instead of playing one another over and over again, club teams from Baltimore, New York, and Boston now play teams from Georgia, New Hampshire, California, and Texas. While broadening the geographical horizon is a great start, it doesn’t necessarily bridge the racial and economic gap that exists in lacrosse.  The cost of putting one safely equipped young man on a lacrosse field is around $400 per season. The cost for women is a little less, between $200 and $300.  That’s several thousand dollars, just to field a team.  Not everyone can handle that expense for a sport, especially when that money will be spent twice or three times over to replace equipment. 

It doesn’t seem fair for kids to be kept from a sport because they can’t afford it.  A lot of people, when presented with that opinion, would probably agree, but might also say that it’s not their responsibility to pay for other kids to play lacrosse in addition to their own, and that’s not unreasonable.  Important to note: There’s a lot of money being donated in the world of lacrosse — people give thousands of dollars to teams that don’t need it.  I would venture to guess that most of the time this is not because they are averse to helping people who actually need help, but rather that they don’t know how they can do that.
Baltimore features some of the best quality lacrosse in the country, and has recently produced some of the best intentioned as well.  Baltimorean and former All American Ryan Boyle founded the Baltimore Youth Lacrosse League in 2007 with the help of Rob Lindsey and David Skeen.  All three were raised on Baltimore lacrosse and wanted to find a way to give poor kids the same opportunities that allowed them to thrive.  When they found no such thing, they created their own.  And while much of the program focuses on teaching skills, the larger goal has always been nobler.  The program caters to kids in rough neighborhoods, those most at risk of falling in with a bad crowd. 

Interestingly, another program bridging the lacrosse gap in Baltimore pairs inner city youth and Baltimore’s finest. In the Parks and People Foundation’s Baltimore Middle School Lacrosse League, under the direction of police commissioner Fred Bealefeld, several officers from the Baltimore Police Department serve as volunteer coaches, coaching kids from some of the worst areas in the city.  And despite the unfavorable reputation the police may have in some of those neighborhoods, discipline is rarely an issue.  On the field, officers are coaches; kids are just kids, no matter their background. 

BMSLL volunteer coach A.C. George, who played at North Carolina and coached at Walbrook Middle School, says the pairing works–they are helping keep kids off the street. 

“These kids are at an age that gangs target for recruiting, and this gives them a much better option,” George says.

The program is growing by leaps and bounds.  At NCAA men’s finals in Baltimore this spring, all teams in the new league participated in NCAA-sponsored clinics.  This summer the 19 players travelled to New Hampshire for a five-day lacrosse camp.  George, a retired McCormick Spice executive, fielded 12 teams this spring and would like to grow to 16 to 18 teams in 2012.
Ideally, these programs help kids get involved with lacrosse when they’re 11 or 12 — next, they play for their high school team, then they get to go on and play in college.  After just one season, George sent Jamar Peete to play at Limestone College in South Carolina: the first of what promises to be a long string of successes.

Charm City Lacrosse, a program out of Baltimore city, takes the outreach one step further with a program for six- to 10-year-olds. Kids learn skills, training, league play and receive mentoring.  According to the website, the program also aims to open doors to scholarship opportunities at private schools.

Seems like the meaning of these programs and the kids they help should be enough to make any lacrosse fan feel that fighting for the sport to be more inclusive is worth their time, maybe even their money.  Many who watch the sport have complained repeatedly that professional lacrosse doesn’t get enough coverage, or funding, or publicity, and it certainly doesn’t get nearly the amount of sports like baseball, soccer, football, or basketball.  Then again, it doesn’t cater remotely to the same number of people.  For as long as lacrosse remains exclusive, it will also remain largely un-televised.  Certainly it’s understandable from a financial standpoint–stations don’t want to show something that only a few thousand people are going to watch when they can broadcast to millions–but it makes sense socially as well.  People don’t want to watch a sport they never had a chance to play and thus know nothing about.  Making the sport inclusive is win-win for everyone, and it starts right here.

A Brain and a Babe? Baltimore’s Jane Randall in NYT Fashion Shoot


America’s Next Top Model contestant and Roland Park Country School, Class of 2008 alum Jane Randall was featured last week in a spread entitled “Beautiful Minds/Extra Credit” in The New York Times “T” Magazine blog.

The Princeton University undergrad, who played lacrosse for the Tigers, took a year off last year to compete in the reality show. She came in second in the contest (where she was forbidden from reading a book!) but was signed by top modeling agency, IMG.

Said one Gilman, Class of 2008 alum and friend who eyed her this summer, “She’s still the same, just a lot skinnier.” Modeling will do that…




The Other Wes Moore: A Summer Read From Sea to Sea


In our recent coverage of local universities’ summer reading assignments, we mentioned that incoming Goucher freshman are required to read The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Baltimore native Wes Moore.  Several local high schools have included the book on their summer reading lists as well.  But, as it turns out, Baltimore-based students aren’t the only scholars who are reading the bestseller. (See the video on our video landing.)

The non-fiction work follows two boys, both named Wes Moore and both from the same area of Baltimore, but whose lives take divergent courses as a result of the decisions they make and the expectations they set for themselves.  The author grew to become a Rhodes Scholar, a decorated veteran, and a White House fellow, among other achievements.  The other Wes Moore, by contrast, is serving a life sentence in prison for felony murder. 

That central message–the idea that the choices you make and the standards you set for yourself determine who you are and what you accomplish–has earned The Other Wes Moore a spot on required summer reading lists at universities across the country, from nearby Virginia Commonwealth University all the way to California State University at Bakersfield. 

In a recent interview on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, Moore touched on this point, saying, “I remember there was actually a scene in the book where Wes and I were taking, and I asked him, ‘So do you think that we’re products of our environment?’ (We were talking about Baltimore). He said, ‘you know, I think we’re products of our expectations.’ And it’s so important that these students … really see the importance of that–that the expectations you set for yourself really matter. Because we are a nation of self-fulfilling prophecies, and so what we envision, and how we’re willing to work at it, can really make all the difference as to where we end up.”

During the interview, caller after caller phoned in to express appreciation and love for the book, adoration the author met with sincere gratitude. Speaking of which, gratitude is another virtue Moore hopes to impart on the students reading his tome.   

“For so many of these students who are coming into college, they know how lucky they are…It means a lot of people have sacrificed and worked on your behalf, and that the collegiate experience can’t simply be about what are you learning. It also needs to be about, what are you giving and what is the sacrifice that you’re wiling to make in order to help make the lives of others better.”

Moore has worked with schools to create local service projects within a given school’s community in conjunction with the study of the book. This will not only ensure students are giving back, but will also give students an understanding of their new communities.

And there’s one more thing students should be grateful for: Moore is making summer reading much more enjoyable than Homer or Plato ever did.

Where Will Baltimore’s Recent Grads Be In Ten Years?


In the next few weeks, thousands of Baltimore area seniors will head off to college and begin the journey to adulthood. Where will they go? What will they do?  We asked area seniors where they think their lives will lead them and where they think they will be in ten years.



 “In ten years, I will be living just outside of Portland Maine, working at a small scale investment firm. I will spend my weeks working hard, but on the weekends, it will be all play. I will go hiking, swimming, and skiing as much I humanly can. As soon as I I have enough money, I will buy a boat, and a small cabin on a lake.” – Matt Collins ’11, Friends School, Class of 2011; Bowdoin College, Class of 2015



“I consider myself a news junkie.   During high school I checked on the news constantly.  CNN and Baltimore Sun are web sites I checked multiple times throughout the day.  In the spring semester of my senior year at Bryn Mawr, I did an internship at ABC2 news and got a taste of what working in a newsroom is like. I love the world of news because the action never stops.  There will always be something significant in the world to report on and that’s why I want to be a reporter.  This Fall I’ll be attending Elon University, studying Communications with a focus on radio and television broadcasting.  In ten years my goal is to be a leading reporter at a local news station.  So remember the name Julia Denick, because in a few years I might be reporting your news.” -Julia Denick, Bryn Mawr School, Class of 2011; Elon University, Class of 2015



 “Ten years from now, I hope to have completed college and received a master’s degree in astrophysics.  I also hope to be living in Geneva, Switzerland working in a physics lab discovering new things everyday and loving it!  I also hope to be able to travel to different labs all over the world to either learn from others, or assist others.”  – Catherine Stanley, Hereford High School, Class of 2011; Washington College, Class of 2015




In ten years I plan to be a clinical psychologist with a Ph.D. working in a hospital setting, hopefully with veterans.” – Sam Kimmel , Friends School, Class of 2011; Carleton College, Class of 2015



“In ten years I want to be working for a company that incorporates international business with marketing, which would allow me to travel to many different parts of the world.” -Caroline Seats, Roland Park Country School, Class of 2011; Georgetown University, Class of 2015






“In 10 years, I’ll hopefully be completing my residency.” – Chinezi Ihenatu, Friends School, Class of 2011; Brown University, Class of 2015






In 10 years, if everything goes well with my current career plan, I’ll probably be out of medical school and doing my residency. I hope to complete my residency in Baltimore or Boston, but obviously I have no idea where I’ll end up, if I even do become a doctor. Preferably, I’d be living in Boston (and thus working in Boston) and enjoying what I do!  – Genie Han, Hereford High School, Class of 2011; Boston College, Class of 2015




“In ten years, I hope to be working as an Assistant United States Attorney.” – Justin Schuster, Gilman, Class of 2011; Yale, Class of 2015 




“In ten years, I will be living in the outskirts in Nashville working for a record label company. My southern gentlemen husband and I will have just been newly wed and we will be active in the music community. Hopefully, when we make enough money, we will travel to foreign countries and experience once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.” – Sara Gillet, McDonogh, Class of 2011; University of Colorado at Boulder, Class of 2015

Rising Sixth Grade Required Summer Reading


For rising sixth graders, the last two weeks of summer are both exciting and dreadful; each fleeting day marks a notch in the countdown to school.  On the one hand, thoughts of mixers and sports teams evoke happy anticipation. Procrastinated summer reading, on the other hand, does not.  These days, schools allow students to pick most of their summer reading books but require one or two titles by read by all students. Below is a list of the required books Baltimore’s eleven and twelve year olds have been neglecting:

Bryn Mawr School 

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Esperanza thought she’d always live with her family on their ranch in Mexico–she’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home, & servants. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances–Mama’s life and her own depend on it.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. 

Red-haired Anne, with a temperament to match, knows from her first moment at Green Gables that she wants to stay and not be sent back to the orphanage.  It’s difficult for this spirited girl to hold her tongue and be the girl the Cuthberts want her to be.  Anne’s imagination and engaging ways soon charm all whom she meets. 

Gilman School

Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman

A vacant lot, rat-infested and filled with garbage, looked like no place for a garden. Especially to a neighborhood of strangers where no one seems to care. Until one day, a young girl clears a small space and digs into the hard-packed soil to plant her precious bean seeds. Suddenly, the soil holds promise: To Curtis, who believes he can win back Lateesha’s heart with a harvest of tomatoes; to Virgil’s dad, who sees a fortune to be made from growing lettuce; and even to Maricela, sixteen and pregnant, wishing she were dead. Thirteen very different voices — old, young, Haitian, Hispanic, tough, haunted, and hopeful — tell one amazing story about a garden that transforms a neighborhood.

Roland Park Country School

The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe by Loree Griffin Burns

Without honey bees the world would be a different place. There would be no honey, no beeswax for candles, and, worst of all, barely a fruit, nut, or vegetable to eat. So imagine beekeeper Dave Hackenburg’s horror when he discovered twenty million of his charges had vanished. Those missing bees became the first casualties of a mysterious scourge that continues to plague honey bee populations today. In The Hive Detectives, Loree Griffin Burns profiles bee wranglers and bee scientists who have been working to understand colony collapse disorder, or CCD. In this dramatic and enlightening story, readers explore the lives of the fuzzy, buzzy insects and learn what might happen to us if they were gone.

Boys’ Latin

The Cay by Theodore Taylor

Phillip is excited when the Germans invade the small island of Curaçao. War has always been a game to him, and he’s eager to glimpse it firsthand–until the freighter he and his mother are traveling to the United States on is torpedoed.

When Phillip comes to, he is on a small raft in the middle of the sea. Besides Stew Cat, his only companion is an old West Indian, Timothy. Phillip remembers his mother’s warning about black people: “They are different, and they live differently.”

But by the time the castaways arrive on a small island, Phillip’s head injury has made him blind and dependent on Timothy. 

Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Berlin 1942

When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.


People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau

The People of Sparks picks up where The City of Ember leaves off. Lina and Doon have emerged from the underground city to the exciting new world above, and it isn’t long before they are followed by the other inhabitants of Ember. The Emberites soon come across a town where they are welcomed, fed, and given places to sleep. But the town’s resources are limited and it isn’t long before resentment begins to grow between the two groups. When anonymous acts of vandalism push them toward violence, it’s up to Lina and Doon to discover who’s behind the vandalism and why, before it’s too late.


Note to sixth graders:  Reading the one paragraph synopses above does not count as reading the book. The Eds.

There’s A New Free Shuttle Service in Town


You’ve hopped on the Hopkins shuttle to get from Charles Village to Mount Vernon; you were thrilled when the Charm City Circulator let you get downtown for free. Now there’s a new free shuttle service in town — but there might be a catch.

One of the greatest things about the Hopkins Shuttle (more properly known as the JHMI-Homewood shuttle) is how you don’t really have to be a Hopkins affiliate to take advantage of its gloriously free, relatively reliable transportation. The Blue Jay Shuttle — a revamped, renamed version of the school’s security escort van service — will travel along several fixed routes, circling through Hampden, Waverly, and Remington; it’ll hit 72 student-friendly hotspots like the 25th Street Safeway, the Avenue in Hampden, the Waverly Giant, and the Rotunda. Service will start at 5:45 PM, with a fleet of vans embarking every half hour until 11 PM. If you’ve got a smart phone, you’ll be able to track the buses via NextBus, a GPS-based real time transit system.

Which all sounds pretty convenient and great. The catch? According to the school’s website, you’ll need a valid Hopkins ID (aka a J-Card) to board. The service isn’t up and running yet (it starts on August 24), so it remains to be seen whether the ID requirement will be in name only (as on the Hopkins shuttle) or a serious necessity (as on the Collegetown Shuttle service).

Local Universities Feed Teach for America’s Ranks


A couple local universities rank as some of the top contributors to national education service corps Teach for America.

Overall, the program boasted a record 48,000 applications for around 5,200 jobs serving as teachers for two years in urban and rural public schools. The University of Maryland-College Park ranked tenth among large schools, sending 56 graduating seniors to the program. Johns Hopkins, contributing 25 students, ranked 14th among medium schools. (Nearly 8 percent Johns Hopkins undergrads applied to the program.)

TFA corps members are an elite group:  “Incoming corps members earned an average GPA of 3.6, and 100 percent have held leadership positions. Twenty-two percent are the first in their family to graduate from college, and nearly one-third received Pell Grants. More than one-third are people of color, including 12 percent who are African American and 8 percent who are Hispanic.”

Though most of these local grads will end up serving communities across the U.S. — from Oklahoma City to the Bronx to Appalachian Kentucky — some may wind up back here in Baltimore; the city hosts 325 of these teachers, meaning that they teach more than 20,000 students over their tenure in the city’s highest-need schools.

School Day Gets Ever Longer…for Some


Three Baltimore schools will serve as testing grounds for a new expanded school day program, thanks to the TASC Expanded Learning Time initiative. According to the Open Society Foundation, one of the program’s funders, “these schools will partner with local community organizations to provide students with engaging, enriching activities that reinforce classroom lessons” after the normal 3 PM closing time.

President Obama himself has trumpeted programs to keep kids in school longer, either through lengthening the school year or extending the school day. Advocates claim that more time in school leads to better performance and greater rates of on-time graduation. And the more time kids are at school, the less time they have to get in trouble. (It’s also worth keeping in mind that U.S. students have an incredibly short school year [180 days], compared to other industrialized nations. Japanese students spend 243 days in school each year; even the notoriously lazy French have 5 more school days per year than we do!)

Rather than keeping kids sitting at desks for 3 bonus hours a day, TASC schools fill the extra time with “rich and varied” activities from sports to academic enrichment. With the traditional school day increasingly taken up by test-prep activities, TASC makes room for extracurriculars, experiments, art classes, PE, and other hands-on “extras.”

It’s a shame, though, that experiential learning, fun projects, and other ways to keep kids engaged are relegated to the “extras” column. Does this program sound like the right kind of move to you?

Cat People are Smart; Dog People are Loyal… What are Bee People Like?


There are cat people and dog people and the weirdos who insist that they like both equally. And then there are the special breed of folks who are bee people.

If cat people are elegant and intellectual, and dog people are slobbery and gullible (perhaps you can tell what side of the divide I fall on?), what are bee people like? Judging from a few Hopkins researchers who have embarked on a beekeeping project at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, they tend to be meticulous, enthusiastic, and fond of experiments.

This particular endeavor isn’t about the honey–that just sweetens the deal (sorry, couldn’t resist). Instead, it’s an attempt to keep a hive of bees alive and thriving in the face of the mysterious colony collapse disorder that threatened bee populations nationwide. And what does all that have to do with public health?  Well, because bees are superstar pollinators, fewer bees means the food system as a whole is under threat; we all have an interest in keeping the bee population healthy, thriving, and full of nectar.

As long as all goes well, the 60,000 bees in the hive (give or take a few thousand) will produce about 100 pounds of honey in a year; 60% of it is consumed by the bees themselves, and 40% goes to the researchers. Of course, getting that honey requires some precise manipulations; no wonder, perhaps, that these scientists are drawn to them.

Taking Care of the Earth


The graduation speech of J.D. Robinson, Friends School Class of 2011. He heads to McDaniel College in the fall.

Listen. Do you hear that? That’s the sound of your frontal lobe processing thought. We’re all thinking. Some of us have been thinking for a long, long time. Others have just ventured into the realm of thought. But what have we been thinking about? The future? Sometimes. The past? Well, only in History class. No, today, we think about today. The day we’ve all been waiting for. The day we officially move forward. The day we move out into this huge world that we call Earth.

However, we must remember. This Earth is not like what it was before. For the first time in history, we are said to be worse off than those before us. This Earth has become unforgiving. An Earth with a dwindling environment. An Earth of violence and death. An Earth of struggle. But this in no way means we should lose hope. Quite the opposite, actually. We are provided an opportunity. An opportunity to change, to reshape, and to rebuild. Change an Earth with a dwindling environment into one with a vibrant and sustainable one. An Earth of violence and death into one of tranquility and harmony. An Earth of struggle into an Earth of peace. 

Now, you may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. We’ve all had these dreams. To end war. End hunger. End deforestation. End poverty. End crime. Thanks to the past years we have been given the tools and the mindset to take steps in these directions. Possibly even leaps and bounds. But steps. Small, Mila- and Fiona-sized steps. 

I used to think that the new school motto was laughable. I deemed it too pretentious and snooty in my own mind. But the more I think about those words, “The world needs what our children can do,” the more I think of the extraordinary things my fellow classmates have done, not because they felt it thrust upon them by the world, but to show the world that they haven’t turned away. They can rebuild townhouse after townhouse and give those homes to someone less fortunate. They work with food banks and homeless shelters to make sure those shelves stay stocked and that those shelters get proper equipment. They fly down to Haiti to replant trees to help recreate the lost environment, and have redoubled their efforts to help the Haitian people once again. 50 + hours between 99 students. And if the math is right, Miles spent a good hour working this equation out, that’s about 5000 hours of work for the community and the world. See? We’re making those steps already. Sure, you can say that later in life, we’re going to run out of time to be able to do these things. But time is something we don’t have to worry about.

Because Time isn’t an enemy. Nor is time a friend. Time is merely a companion. We can’t be afraid of time because it only moves one direction. And we’ve spent a lot of time here. 

I’m forced to admit that these years were quite different. These weren’t just more calendar years filled with pleasure and work, happiness and sadness, gain and loss. These years have truly changed us, in every way that matters. 

When I look back I don’t see days or weeks, or months or cycles or day 1’s or day 4’s. I see smiles, and laughter, and the ever so tenuous steps toward the future. Toward this day. I see my classmates grow older, wiser, more mature, and myself a little bit too. I see 2011 growing closer and closer together and becoming the family I never expected I would get, or even want. But I got them anyway, and over the years I’ve learned to accept and embrace them for who they all are. The people I will not soon forget. The people I take pride in calling my friends. The people who I will truly, dearly miss.

As I look forward to the years to come, I see it through a new perspective. Through a new set of eyes. A set of eyes that knows I have people I can trust. People I can lean on. There’s a quote from a favorite TV Show of mine. “If you can’t run, you walk. If you can’t walk, you crawl. And if you can’t crawl, you find someone to carry you.” I can truly say, that if I can no longer run, walk, or crawl, I can find someone in the class of 2011 to carry me. I’ll leave you with this. Take stock of the things that truly, truly matter. And I’ll see you on the other side, 2011.

Sports and the City: More than Just Playing the Field


Yes, little Cooper and Willow have been enrolled in Gymboree, Mommy-and-Me swim classes, and tee-ball since they were able to roll over. Then it was field hockey, lacrosse, baseball, soccer, swim team, maybe cross-country. 

In case you don’t already know this firsthand via countless hours shuttling pre-drivers to their many, many practices, games, clinics, and team dinners, playing sports-–just like education-–rapidly becomes a family affair. Not to mention that Olivia’s trip to the All-Stars with her basketball team often takes financial precedence over, say, a sorely needed winter coat for Mom or Dad.

But for many Baltimore families with equally precious children, there aren’t enough resources to even sacrifice. The many benefits of playing on a sports team go untapped.

Thankfully, several enterprising programs in Baltimore are stepping up to the plate to introduce and encourage growing bodies and minds, and put not only athletics but also academics to the test.

Not Just a Racket

Inspired by their own love of the game, a group of Baltimore-area squash players set their sights on sharing the experience with the city’s youth, and in 2007, founded SquashWise. More than just interested in introducing the sport to the next generation, the board members were determined to expand and improve upon the extracurricular opportunities available to Baltimore city kids. 

But that’s just the squash part. The wise part comes from the rigorous academic expectations of the program. 

Once enrolled in SquashWise, students attend six days a week during the school year. The SquashWise bus picks them up after school and takes them to either Meadow Mill Athletic Center or the Johns Hopkins University squash courts-–both donated spaces-–where they have a healthy snack before changing into their sharp red and black uniforms (donated by squash athletic gear company Harrow). For the rest of the afternoon, students alternate between academic tutoring and athletic coaching. 

As a member of the National Urban Squash & Education Association (NUSEA), SquashWise based itself on the model of urban squash and education programs that have been successful in many other cities across the country, including the original SquashBusters in Boston, founded in 1996. In 2008 the Baltimore group was selected as NUSEA’s first-ever “Star Program,” receiving a $100,000 challenge grant over the first two years—a challenge that SquashWise met in full with support from Baltimore’s charitable community.

Currently working in partnership with Baltimore Civitas School, SquashWise strives to provide full support to students who are dedicated to becoming accomplished scholar-athletes, as demonstrated by gains in classroom effort, behavior, fitness and attitude.

“We describe our students as under-served, “ says SquashWise Executive Director Abby Markoe. “By ‘at-risk,’ [we mean] they are actually at risk of missing out on academic opportunities and athletic opportunities. Very few have ever been members of a team before. SquashWise works to fill the gap that often exists between school and parents and kids. We provide support to the kids, schools and parents. Everyone is communicating.”

Communication must be going well. In 2010, the Baltimore City School Board selected SquashWise as an “Outstanding Partner,” in recognition of the impressive work they do with city students.

As helpful as the tutoring is, Markoe admits, “It’s the squash keeps them coming back every day. [SquashWise] opens opportunities for high school play. Plus it gives students an identity that separates them from their peers.”

Skating Toward Success

Even before the introduction of the urban squash program, another innovative program was offering unusual athletic opportunities for Baltimore kids living on thin ice: hockey.

Since lakes and ponds in the inner-city rarely stay frozen long enough for an outdoor team to develop any kind of magic, or for a regular pick-up game to establish itself in the neighborhood, ice hockey around here requires a substantial commitment of both time and finances.

For the past 13 years Baltimore Youth Hockey has sponsored the Patterson Park Stars, a 15-week program of ice hockey instruction and team building for boys and girls, ages seven to 14.  Like Squashwise, the program offers an uncommon opportunity to play ice hockey for dozens of economically-compromised boys and girls from East and Southeast Baltimore.  Participation in the Patterson Park Stars requires a strict set of academic and behavioral standards. And as with SquashWise, it’s the game that keeps players on their game.

“The kids love it,” says former professional hockey player and current BYH Director Boe Leslie. “It’s not a sport most of them normally get to play, but once they get a chance on the ice they really thrive.”

Each season, BYH contracts the Patterson Park Ice Rink on Sunday mornings for the Stars’ games. Players are outfitted and loaned new and used hockey equipment for use throughout the program. 

Advantage Everyone

Moving further down the court, Greater Baltimore Tennis Patrons (GBTP) actively works to turn a sometimes-exclusive sport (remember being bounced from the club for wearing pastel instead of white?) into a truly all-inclusive game with programs that teach not only the basics, but also wheelchair court skills. The specific mission of BTP’s programming for low-income and other under-served youth is twofold, to use tennis to inspire and assist children to stay in school, graduate, pursue higher education with scholarships/financial aid or gain satisfying employment, and to impart education and skills that will lead to safe and healthy decision-making, elevated self-esteem and multicultural social competencies.”

GBTP offers another benefit often missing in its players lives: a sit-down supper. Through the Family League of Baltimore’s Snack and Supper Program, meals are provided and shared in the cafeteria each time the groups meet. “It’s not true for all but many of these kids don’t have a regular family meal,” notes Director of Programs Lynne Morrell. The meal exemplifies GBTP’s commitment to nutritional education, something that reinforces the relationship between diet and exercise.

Consistency of encouragement and support is crucial,” stresses Morrell. “We require a commitment from our staff for the full 24-week program. People come in and out of these kids lives a lot and we don’t want to mirror that negative experience.”

It’s Not Baltimore without Lacrosse

Baltimore Youth Lacrosse League (BYLL) was founded by Ryan Boyle, Rob Lindsey, and Dave Skeen, three Gilman grads and former lacrosse stars who wanted to share their love of lacrosse with some of the probably-not-Gilman-grads of Baltimore City. The summer league was created to give kids an outlet for lacrosse once school was dismissed for the summer, and a skills clinic run by Boyle, a professional lacrosse player and member of the Championship 2010 U.S. National Team.

Dave Novak, exec director, sums up the appeal of lacrosse: “It’s fast and involves contact but you need a team to make it work.” As with all of these programs, the BYLF recognizes the importance of getting kids involved in sports early to keep them out of trouble later. “Middle school is really the last chance to have a profound effect,” recognizes Novak.

And then the police got involved—as coaches. This year the BYLL partnered with the Baltimore City Police Department and Parks and People to increase the number of their lacrosse programs. The interaction between the officers and the “at-risk” youth leads to an uncommon bond. Potential adversaries on the stark streets of the city become supporters, allies, and friends on the grassy lacrosse fields. 

Ball’s in Your Court

All of these amazing programs are always looking for donations of both time and money. To learn how to volunteer, and to find out about upcoming events, visit the organizations’ websites. Or better yet—go out and cheer at one of the games. Encouragement and recognition are always in demand and often in short supply.

Summer Reading: Local Schools’ Picks


It’s just about that time of year when the peaches are juiciest, and when students remember how they’ve completely neglected their summer reading. Once the exclusive provenance of high school students, colleges have increasingly been asking incoming freshmen to have read the same book before they show up for orientation. Below, the tomes being toted around by future freshmen at Baltimore area universities and colleges:

Johns Hopkins –  Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
Kidder’s great at telling stories of global strife and public health emergencies — and then somehow winding up with a semi-optimistic conclusion. As the school tells its incoming students, “You are about to embark on a wonderful journey not only at Johns Hopkins University but in the city of Baltimore. It is our hope you will make every effort to become an active member of both of these communities.” A sign of the university’s attempts to pop the infamous “Hopkins bubble”?

St. Johns (Annapolis) – The Iliad, by Homer
This is a school that likes to start at the beginning — they teach math by reading Archimedes. So this pick is pretty obvious. Come on, St. Johns, shake things up!

Goucher – The Other Wes Moore, by Wes Moore
A surprise bestseller set in Baltimore:  “The Other Wes Moore is the story of two kids with the same name, both liv­ing in Baltimore. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, dec­o­rated com­bat vet­eran, White House Fel­low, and busi­ness leader. The other is serv­ing a life sen­tence in prison for felony mur­der.”

UMBC – Outcasts United, Warren St. John
Another tale of hardship with a heartwarming ending – this time, it’s a soccer team of UNHCR refugees in a small town outside Atlanta. Per the book selection committee, “[the story] supports the value of both education and recreational sports.”

Sorry, Grad Students.


Bad news for everyone who hoped to sit the recession out in a cushy grad school program:  A provision of the new debt ceiling deal will save money by eliminating special loan conditions for grad students.

Used to be that grad students could get a special kind of loan that didn’t charge any interest until six months after graduation. It kept debt from ballooning while folks were still in school, and sweetened the grad school deal for some. But not any longer — and with the demise of the special loan, students will be paying an extra $21.6 billion over the next 10 years — or, to put it in individual terms, as much as a few thousand dollars for an individual student.

Which is depressing, if you’re a grad student or know some grad students. And, odds are, you probably do — this deal comes at a time when more Americans than ever are going to grad school. The master’s is the nation’s fastest growing degree, with the number awarded more than doubling since the 1980s. According to the New York Times, 2 in 25 people over age 25 have a master’s — about the same proportion as had a bachelor’s in 1960.

And students are also in more debt than ever, a condition that’s not likely to improve if the job market continues its recent miserable trend. More than half of today’s master’s students end up borrowing an average of $31,000 — and that’s on top of any undergrad debt. Want a PhD? You’ll probably be paying off your loans until your kids are in college.

Lawmakers agreed to the cuts in part because the savings mostly went to fund the Pell Grant program, which helps poor students go to college. A worthy cause, to be sure — and one that could have stood to lose a ton of money. Let’s just hope those Pell Grant recipients are smart enough not to go on to grad school.

Cheating Scandal Spreads to Pennsylvania


It’s one of those news stories that just gets more depressing:  the cheating epidemic that hit Baltimore earlier this year has moved on to Pennsylvania, where a whopping 89 schools were flagged for possible testing improprieties. (28 of these were in Philly, a city with 257 schools; in the Baltimore scandal, 2 out of 56 elementary schools were implicated.) As a New York Times story notes, “Never before have so many had so much reason to cheat. Students’ scores are now used to determine whether teachers and principals are good or bad, whether teachers should get a bonus or be fired, whether a school is a success or failure.”

The Pennsylvania story is much like the one in Baltimore, which was similar to a previous scandal in Atlanta:  School districts have little incentive to call foul on fellow educators; cramped newspaper budgets mean that damning reports sit gathering dust on reporters’ desks. When the news finally breaks, everyone wrings their hands for a little while, but ultimately not much changes.

The New York Times reporter concludes that we need a top official with the clout and political will to make a real investigation happen — and to make sure the cheating doesn’t recur. What do you think — does that sound like a likely prospect for Baltimore?

Goucher Requires Study Abroad for Graduation


While life in Baltimore can include its fair share of excitement, drama, and intercultural interactions, Goucher College decided it just wasn’t quite enough.

And so, in 2006, Goucher became the first school in the country to require students to study abroad. They can fulfill the requirement in a traditional semester- or year-long program, or they can enroll in some of the school’s special three-week intensive courses. (For a bit of travel envy, check out the list of intensive courses the school has offered, or plans to offer in the near future. Goucher students have the option to study dance and theatre in London, Marine Biology in Honduras, sacred architecture in Japan, inequality in South Africa… among many other options.)

As Sanford Ungar, the school’s president told the Washington Examiner in 2008, ““I don’t think you can call yourself an educated person unless you know something about the world. You need to have the sense that there are other perspectives to be heard.”

Because international travel/living can pose a financial hardship, the school offers $1,200 vouchers for travel and living expenses; honors students in the international scholars program get $3,000.

And in a world where colleges compete to stand out to students, the foreign exchange requirement sets Goucher apart from the pack. In 2008, 82 percent of undergrads listed the requirement as the main reason they picked Goucher.