As Baltimore looks to rebuild, a new charter school is working to offer a beacon of hope to the city and its youth. On Monday, August 31, Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys, opened its doors to 175 new elementary and middle school boys. Its inaugural day was the culmination of four years of planning, fundraising, and marketing by dedicated volunteers and educators driven by the mission to provide a strong college preparatory education for boys.
The idea for the school was first conceived by Executive Director Jack Pannell, a local civic leader and social entrepreneur, who founded the Five Smooth Stones Foundation four years ago. The foundation takes its name from the David and Goliath story in which David used five stones to take down Goliath, and the metaphor aptly captures the scope of the foundation and the staggering statistics it seeks to eradicate. Today, Five Smooth Stones directly funds and oversees the school.
At the time of the foundation’s creation, Pannell, with a representative from the University of Baltimore, and Dr. Kimberly Moffitt, associate professor of American Studies at UMBC and a founding board member, collaborated to file a charter application for a Baltimore city school for boys. The city approved the charter in June 2012 with the ultimate goal to welcome 264 students in fourth through sixth grades.
When current board president, Betsey Hobelmann, joined the board in the fall later that year, she was tasked with increasing funding for the school. While the school is supported by the Baltimore City Public School system, its contribution only represents a fraction of Baltimore Collegiate’s need. Since Hobelmann’s installation, the foundation has nearly tripled its private funding to $275,000.
The efforts were enhanced by a U.S. Department of Education Federal Charter School Start-Up grant. This process took two years, during which the foundation had to argue that, under Title 9, Baltimore girls had as many educational opportunities as boys. Thanks to girls’ schools like Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, Lilly Mae Carroll Jackson School, and co-ed KIPP, they were able to make a case for a new school just for boys. It became the only school in Maryland to win the federal grant in 2013. In early 2015, the school was awarded $745,000 over a three-year period, ensuring its successful opening this fall.
With its vision realized, the foundation turned its attention to the main mission: to educate Baltimore City’s most vulnerable citizens, its boys. Among the statistics facing boys in the city: Nearly 90 percent of fourth grade African American males cannot read at grade level, according to a report by the Council of the Great City Schools. Commonly referred to as the fourth grade failure syndrome, the phenomenon often results in students falling behind and ultimately out of school. With its mission to “seek out, find, and advance forward the next generation of young men,” Baltimore Collegiate believes its unique program will be a “game changer for Baltimore City’s boys and young men.” They plan to accomplish this by welcoming boys in the fourth grade, right at that pivotal point in their learning.
At its opening, the school’s student body is weighted toward sixth grade, a common transition for students leaving elementary school and entering middle school. Each year, the school will add a new fourth grade class. The school will ultimately educate fourth through twelfth grade boys in a liberal arts, college-preparatory program that balances academics with extra curricular programs in art, music, physical education, athletics, leadership as well as tutoring and community service.
The school operates as a public school, welcoming any who apply. Students were actively recruited through open houses, school fairs, as well as public forums at the Pratt Library. The recruitment continues in earnest in order for the school to fulfill its enrollment goals. Most students come from low-income households but within the population, there is both a diversity of socioeconomic and intellectual backgrounds. When assessed, boys’ reading scores ranged from a first grade level to a handful reading at the twelfth grade level, presenting the challenge of creating a curriculum that meets the needs of each boy.
Along with student recruitment, Baltimore Collegiate has actively recruited its faculty. It is most proud of its inaugural group of Collegiate Teaching Fellows, recent graduates from Morgan State University, Loyola College, UMBC, and Amherst (Pannell’s alma mater), who have all devoted hours to not only getting the school physically prepared but have also helped recruit new students. The fellows tutor, coach, and mentor the boys in exchange for housing, healthcare and a living stipend. Hobelmann cannot praise the fellows enough. “They have given their souls to the school,” she says. She adds that their energy and innovative ideas are inspiring to both the students and the faculty.
The faculty was recruited nationally and comprises a mix of young and experienced teachers. They will teach the boys a college preparatory curriculum that will culminate in the tenth grade. Baltimore Collegiate distinguishes itself by offering students the opportunity to take college courses on local campuses after tenth grade. The impetus for this is the fact that nationally, only one in forty African American males finish high school on time, matriculate to college and graduate within six years. In an effort to improve the statistic, Collegiate eleventh and twelfth graders will matriculate on college campuses, sample courses, and possess a foundation of education to bolster their success. Along with Principal John Snowdy, local educators of boys like Gilman Headmaster Henry Smyth, and Boy’s Latin Middle School Head Brandon Mollett, have advised in curriculum planning and implementation as members of the school’s academic advisory committee. Snowdy, who came from Friendship Collegiate Academy Charter School in D.C., is especially invested in the school’s success because his son is a new fourth grader.
As a public school, the curriculum will draw from the Baltimore City Common Core curriculum. Teachers, however, have freedom to innovate. Core classes will be supplemented by art, music, PE, athletics and leadership opportunities. The boys attend school from 8:22 a.m.- 5:30 p.m., allowing time in the school day for after-school activities, and the school year is extended, beginning at the middle of August and concluding at the end of June.
The energy and enthusiasm surrounding the opening of the Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys was palpable on opening day. The Collegiate 100 of Morgan State University, a young men’s group, arrived in coat and tie, as well as thirty representatives from the Black Professional Men, Inc., to shake hands and greet each boy. Wes Moore, Baltimore native and best-selling author (and rumored mayoral candidate), also came to lend his support to the new school with a inspiring welcome address.
Hobelmann was amazed at the boy’s engagement during the first week of school. “Despite 95 degree temperatures and no air conditioning. The boys were wonderful!” That’s a good start.
Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys offers a framework in which’s today’s youth can aspire to higher education, leadership and service. Modeled as a community school, it embodies, for its students, faculty, and the city, the profound effects of teamwork and a collective vision.
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