Schools

Johns Hopkins: For Rich Kids Only?

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According to Johns Hopkins, the Class of 2015 will be “one of the most diverse in the university’s history.” Next year’s freshmen hail from all 50 states and a host of other countries; 23 percent of admits are underrepresented minorities. All encouraging facts. But as a recent New York Times article by David Leonhardt points out, economic diversity is still glaringly absent from top schools, and Hopkins is no exception.

One rough measure of economic diversity is the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants from the federal government — an approximate way to figure out how many students come from the bottom half of the income distribution. At Amherst, it’s 22 percent; nearly a third of UCLA and UC Berkeley students fall into this category. Hopkins’ figure? 11 percent.

Which is not to say that the university should be singled out for censure. Actually, it’s alarmingly in keeping with national trends. Leonhardt cites a study that examined the class of 2010 at the nation’s top 193 schools.  The economic distribution was way out of whack:  only 15 percent of students were from the bottom half of the nation’s income distribution, while 67 percent were from the top quarter. In 2003, there were more students from families that earned at least $200,000 than those in the entire bottom half of the income distribution. As Leonhardt points out, this doesn’t just mean that students from poor families aren’t attending top colleges — it means that the wealthy are increasingly pushing out the middle class.

As Anthony Marx, president of Amherst, told the Times, “We claim to be part of the American dream and of a system based on merit and opportunity and talent, yet if at the top places, two-thirds of the students come from the top quartile and only 5 percent come from the bottom quartile, then we are actually part of the problem of the growing economic divide rather than part of the solution.”

At Amherst, administrators are increasing grants for foreign students (who don’t qualify for Pell Grants) and seeking out transfer students from community colleges. At Hopkins, there’s the Baltimore Scholars program (a full-tuition scholarship for Baltimore City public high school students accepted to the university) and other need-based grant programs. But as Amherst demonstrates, it takes a lot more effort to correct the existing imbalance. 

Is this enough? Is increasing economic diversity something the university should prioritize?

Internships: Experience or Exploitation?

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When Johns Hopkins launched a new program offering paid internships with Baltimore-area non-profits, they found the response — more than 200 applications for 25 spots — “overwhelming.”

Which, if you think about it, is a little naive.  An internship is basically a necessity for today’s undergraduates, a way to make connections and build a resume. The feeling was present when I was an undergrad in the early 2000s — the sense that you’d never get a job unless you had a host of enviable institutions on your reference list; the idea that a summer spent lifeguarding or just lounging at your parents’ house, reading meant that you’d be left behind.

Which isn’t to say that all internships are worthy of these students’ time and enthusiasm. Many are unpaid, putting students in the unenviable position of having to beg to be allowed to work for free, sometimes at their fifteenth-choice organization. And of course there’s no guarantee that the work itself will be rewarding:  I got college credit for my “editorial internship” at a prestigious-sounding publication where my tasks included changing the boss’ license plate, filling out her daughter’s summer camp application (complete with forged signatures), bringing lunch to her daughter’s school when she forgot it, etc.

It’s partly in order to combat exploitative situations like this that the U.S. Labor Department recently revised its guidelines for unpaid internships with for-profit companies. Basically, if a student is getting credit for an internship, the work has to be structured like an educational experience. “The internship is for the benefit of the intern,” the Labor Department feels the need to proclaim — well, duh. But the fact that such an obvious guideline needs to be codified into law indicates how exploitative some situations have become.

So kudos to JHU for creating a program that seeks to place students in positions where they can contribute meaningfully to their community, where they’re overseen and protected by a university that takes their work seriously — and one that pays them well ($5000!). No wonder hundreds of students were interested — there’s not enough of this in the world.

It’s Not All About Resume Building

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A woman at the gym struck up conversation the other day. She recognized me from our girls’ high school, although her daughter is a few years older than ours. She asked, with real compassion, “So, how’s the college thing going?” There is this shared experience among parents, an empathy that transcends the chitchat, around this topic. Her daughter is already in college, a freshman at Penn, she told me with a suppressed smile of pride on her cheek. Our girls are in junior and sophomore years, so we are just beginning the journey.

This mother said to me, “I know you haven’t asked me for any advice, and maybe you don’t want it, but here is the most important thing anyone ever said to me about the college process, and I wish they had said it sooner. Colleges are looking at what your child IS, not what she ISN’T.”  She said, “We parents are so caught up in what they don’t have, what they haven’t done, that we really lose sight of how great our kids are! It’s such a shame.” We went our ways, and as I started up on the treadmill, I really was captured by what she had said. Of all the pieces of advice one parent can share with another about this process—make sure you start looking at schools in junior year; have her take the SAT at least three times; you should make sure she applies to at least two reaches and at least two safeties; try to pick a favorite and apply early decision—her advice seemed the best, so simple and honest.

In this race that our children are engaged in, it is easy to have the focus shift from what is there to what is not, from all the great things they have done and promise to do to gaps in the resume. We must work hard, for our children’s sake, to keep this from happening. For all the good they will gain at the great colleges they are sure to attend, we could really undermine the glory by not being their cheerleaders, their greatest fans. One huge element of success in this world is the confidence to do things you’ve never done before. They don’t teach that in high school, or college. We teach it at home. So, the next time someone asks you how the college thing is going, I hope your first thought is about what your child IS, not about what she is not.

Until It’s Zero: Underreported Rapes at Hopkins?

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From 2007 to 2009, JHU reported ZERO incidents of sexual assault or rape. While we would love for this to be the case, we know it’s not.

So proclaims the recently-launched Until It’s Zero project, a blog that declares itself “a space devoted to giving survivors of sexual violence an outlet until such a time as the incidence of sexual assault and rape truly is zero.” The blog features stories of assault, rape, gray-area situations, and harassment, written by anonymous Hopkins students — mostly women, but a few men as well.

As the blog’s moderators note, it’s notoriously tricky to get accurate statistics about rape/sexual assault, but some experts estimate that 1 in 4 college women has experienced some form of sexual assault in her lifetime. But a host of factors — from guilt to fear of social stigma to dismissive authority figures — means that many survivors decline to file official reports. A positive-seeming statistic — like Hopkins’ claim of no rapes or sexual assaults reported since 2007 — can actually mask a culture of shame. Over half the rapes committed on college campuses are never reported to police, the blog points out.

So far, the blog features a couple dozen stories from survivors, some set in Hopkins dorms and frat houses, others of which pre-date the writer’s time at the school. And all are heartbreaking to read: “I was 11 years old.  I was in CTY.” “The detective assigned to the case told me he only had time for ‘real rapes.'” It’s a harrowing collection of stories, many of which start out innocently — with a date, a party, a night out with friends.

Kudos to the Hopkins Feminist Alliance and Sexual Assault Response Unit for opening up the discussion. Let’s hope that someday soon that “zero” statistic does reflect campus reality.

The SEED of Greatness

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The SEED School of Maryland, a statewide, college-prep, public boarding school, welcomed its first students, 80 enthusiastic sixth graders, in 2008. Today, the lauded tuition-free school, aiming to serve the “underserved,” which combines rigorous academics with ultra-supportive and attentive boarding-school-style socialization, educates 240 kids, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. (SEED stands for School for Educational Evolution and Development.)

Two key donors were honored this month, former Ravens owner Arthur Modell and his wife Patricia, and the Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

“I am so proud to stand with The SEED School of Maryland, Art and Patricia Modell, and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, as we nurture the next generation of leaders by investing in their future,” said Judge Katie O’Malley. “It is the power of partnership that will help give our children the tools they need to succeed and build a brighter tomorrow.”

The Modells donated five million dollars to SEED in 2007, in crucial days, just before launch, the Weinberg Foundation two million. Since the school’s ambitious opening, the institution has raised 30 million dollars in private donations, which has made possible the construction of two dormitories and an academic building. In the works now: A pool, auditorium, atrium, and additional dormitory. Soon, the student body will grow to 400. Last year, they had an impressive 100 percent re-enrollment rate.

“We’ve come a long way since we broke ground at The SEED School of Maryland’s campus in 2008,” observed John H. Laporte, Chair of the Board of Trustees of The SEED School of Maryland, at the awards ceremony. “The campus is expanding, the student body is growing, and we are about to start our high school program. In just a few short years, we will be sending our first graduates to college. This is an exciting time at The SEED School, and there are so many more good things to come.”

There is one SEED school in Maryland, one in D.C., at present, the latter with a 95 percent rate of college attendance upon graduation.

Summer Road Trip: College Visits

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My husband and daughter took a road-trip last August. She was a rising junior, and we wanted to get a jump on college touring. She is our oldest child, and naturally, we are very excited to engage in this process with her. College is such an important step in a young person’s maturation that we are genuinely ecstatic for the opportunities that lie ahead. So, off to New England they went.  

We thought we were being a little precocious, a little ahead of the crowd, taking a trip BEFORE junior year. Alas, we were wrong. Many girls had been looking for months—checking out college campuses to “get a feel” for a place, or “see what a college campus looks like.” These are half-truths, spoken by parents and the children they love. The whole truth is that it is a dead heat to the finish line in the college admissions race. Some parents will tell you that they have taken a look around, and others will not, fearing that they will forfeit an advantage for their child. This is a marathon, and many parents set their pace miles ago, when we didn’t even know the race was on!

So, the thought for the day is, “Wise up, parents.” No one is going to spell it out for you.  The college counselors can answer questions, but they are not going to tell you what to do. And they are not going to counsel you in the things you don’t dare admit you want to know. These things are revealed in the trenches. So ask your friends with older children what they did, keep your eyes open, and don’t wait for the memo. 

Gilman Film Fest Take One

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More than one film festival screened in Baltimore last week. Synchronized with the celebrated Maryland Film Fest, Gilman School launched its first annual student film showcase, featuring shorts by Baltimore-area teens. Over 150 attendees made the scene.

Of the more than forty original film submissions received, nineteen were selected to screen, representing the best of the categories of short narrative, short documentary, music video, and short animation. Two PSA’s premiered as well. Jury panel was comprised of Gilman faculty, administrators and a few students from the Film Club. 

Iva Turner, Gilman’s Head of Upper School, first proposed the fest idea to junior Daniel Citron. (Daniel is my son.) Impressed with the widespread interest he’d achieved in launching and maintaining a school film club two years earlier, she saw an opportunity to expand Gilman’s emerging arts program into a new realm. Daniel, an avid filmmaker, brought the ambitious fest idea to life.

John Schmick, Gilman’s head of school said, “One of Gilman’s main objectives is to provide students the opportunity to shine in all different arenas. We recognize that creative arts unleash and enhance brainpower in significant ways for development. This particular program kicked off our Festival of Arts, which showcases the best of our visual and musical arts programs. The school play was the week prior to the festival. There’s so much fabulous energy here on campus right now.” 

Gilman seniors Daniel Hoffman and Nick Cortezi’s film “The Kid” was awarded both the Best Narrative and the Special Jury Prizes.

“We both have an interest in filmmaking and, when the festival was announced, it gave us the opportunity to explore what we could do,” said Hoffman. The boys set out to create interesting, unique characters viewers might not have before seen. They settled on the time-honored theme of an old fashioned Western, but decided to cast a 10-year-old as the unlikely star. 

“What we lacked in experience, we made up for in originality,” Hoffman said.

Film Festival winners received $500 scholarship awards contributed by New York Film Academy to their summer filmmaking program in Los Angeles.       

And the winners are: 

Grand Jury Prize and Best Narrative:  “The Kid” by Daniel Hoffman & Nick Cortezi, Gilman. Now Showing! On our Home page and at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDIr-qJEqG4

Best Narrative Runner Up: “Oedipus” by John Chirikjian, Gilman. http://vimeo.com/16448818?ab

Best Music Video: “Got2Go by Alex Elliott,” Broadneck High School, Annapolis. http://vimeo.com/20664919

Best Music Video Runner Up: “Acapella You Tube Melody” by Ryan Sevel, McDonogh.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naQYtGAG_Mw

3rd Place Best Music Video: “Simple Lyrics” by Grace Harrington, Bryn Mawr.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFTqdIeMArs

Mt. Washington Elementary’s Margaret May Named City Schools’ Teacher of the Year

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Baltimore City Schools CEO Andrés A. Alonso announced yesterday Mt. Washington Elementary fifth grade teacher Margaret May as Baltimore’s Teacher of the Year. She now becomes a candidate for Maryland Teacher of the Year this fall.  

“Every day of the year we see excellent teaching and learning in our classrooms, but on this one day each year we get to lift up the work of one particular educator, and for me this is a true honor. We get a glimpse into the great work of one individual teacher, and in turn celebrate the incredibly hard work and dedication of so many,” said Dr. Alonso.

Mount Washington Principal Sue Torr, who nominated Ms. May for the Teacher of the Year designation, said, “she has a thorough knowledge of the content she teaches and has developed an array of instructional techniques and strategies that motivate her students to learn.” 

Ms. May has taught language arts and social studies at Mount Washington Elementary for the last four years. In both 2007-08 and 2008-09, all of her students scored proficient or advanced on the Maryland School Assessment in reading. But that is not how the veteran teacher of nine years measures her success.

“Every September, I know I have succeeded when my students come back to visit and tell me how much they miss fifth grade. I know I have made an impact when former students look for book suggestions or invite me to a musical they are starring in. When my students beg to stay in my classroom during lunch and recess because they want to read or write more, I know I have contributed to education,” said the star teacher.

Early-on she was drawn to teaching. “My mom [was a teacher and] would get together with her friends, who were all teachers, and I would listen to them debate educational issues and share teaching stories. They all loved teaching and just seemed happy with their jobs. I knew I wanted that same thing.” As a child she would stay up at night watching her mother grade papers and beg her to let her help.

Before coming to Baltimore Ms. May taught in the  Fairfax County schools. She holds a master’s degree in education from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

 

Co-Ed Sleepovers for Teens: Yea or Nay?

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Last night I asked a friend with a daughter who is a junior in high school if she would talk to me about the co-ed sleepover phenomenon for the fishbowl. Here’s what I got in response:

So, prom is Saturday and my daughter has tried on her dress about 45 times–not sure the zipper is going to last!  “Plans” (we should really sit down and talk about what this word means) are still evolving for the post-post-prom, although we have said “no way in hell” to the co-ed sleepover.  I mean, really?  So, maybe “Zoe” is going to have a sleepover, but just girls.  (Again, really?  How dumb do I look?)  So hard to know the right thing to do here!  Many of those on the brave frontier who have gone before us have allowed their kids to attend/crash/hang at the post-post-prom co-ed sleepover.  Are we shriveled up dinosaurs who have forgotten how to have fun?  Or are we a few of the handful left who are willing to be unpopular with our kids??  We have actually sent an email, tonight, to the Maryland Department of Transportation to find out if a provisional license holder (such as most high school juniors and many seniors) can use the exception of “official school event” to get out of the driving curfew to come home after the post-post-prom party by him or herself at 4 in the morning… 

“Don’t you trust me?”  These words sting coming from my daughter’s sincere face.  “Of course we trust you.”  What else can we say?  We do.  And yet, there is something about the co-ed sleepover that just does not sit right.  When she pushes for an explanation, the best I can answer, in all sincerity, is that I think it is “inappropriate.”  Do I know that teenagers can have sex whenever they want, if they want?  Yes, I know that.  Do I know that teenagers can drink and get drunk whenever they want, if they want?  Yes, I know that.  Do I think these are the choices she is making?  No, I do not.  So what is different about the hours of 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. this Saturday night?  I don’t know.  But my instinct is that, at least for us, the answer is still no.  The best I can tell her is that parenting is just a chain of thousands of tiny decisions, all made with her best interest at heart, and this one is no exception. 

My husband says the co-ed sleepover is a playground for the devil, and that teenage boys and girls having a sleepover is an abdication of a basic parenting responsibility–to keep them safe, and protected.  If you are not going to say no to that what are you going to say no to?  Ignoring the obvious hyperbole, these comments and questions all resonate until I hear that my dear friend, so and so, whom I really like and respect, is HOSTING the co-ed sleepover!!  What??  Who is right and who is wrong?  Or like so many other things on this wild, fantastical journey, is there room for both of us to do it our own way, and be right?  That’s the space that feels comfortable for us, so that is where we land.  I don’t know what works for other families, but this year, this prom, my daughter will be coming home.

Making the Grade

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Emily got a “C” on a Spanish quiz this week. Irrationally, my thoughts immediately turned to her future. Not whether she would ever master the language, or even whether she would enjoy travel to Spanish-speaking destinations as much as if she were fluent. My first thought was how it would affect her college admissions. Emily is a junior. Understand that she has not received a “C” for the semester, or the year. She has not even gotten a “C” on a unit test. It was just a quiz. We are all wound so tightly about where our kids are going to college, and I am no exception. I immediately went there.

I feel like I owe Emily an apology. Not because I said what I was thinking (something along the lines of “You’re never going to Williams with a C in Spanish!”  or “There go your dreams!”), although she might have read some iteration of that message on my screwed-up face.  I owe her an apology because I thought those stupid thoughts, and for a moment was swept away by the mass hysteria that plagues our demographic—this narrow slice of society whose kids are smart, affluent, and afforded every opportunity. Why do we do this to them?

Our kids are intelligent, healthy, and talented. We are so lucky to have them, and to live in a time and place where we can offer them their dreams. How do we balance our hopes for their future against the real risk of making them feel like there is no such thing as good enough?  I saw the answer in my friend’s toddler the other day. She was fighting to get the peanut butter jar back from her mother, exasperated, saying “I’ll DO it, Mommy!” Well said.

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