Touring Success Academy
Mary Pat Clarke is right. I quoted the councilwoman in my story today saying all city schools should look as good as the new alternative school in North Avenue. Clearly, a whole lot of work went into transforming the east lobby into sparkling new classrooms -- a $1.2 million project done in seven weeks. Dr. Alonso says teachers have been marveling to him about how nice the place smells.
As I toured Success Academy yesterday as part of the horde of media and politicians there for the ribbon-cutting, I couldn't help but compare the transformation of the building (part of it, anyway) to the potential transformation of the kids inside. Granted, not all of the 58 students enrolled were there at the time I was, and I'm sure those who were had to promise to be on their best behavior. But the behavior I saw looked pretty good, given that these are supposed to be some of the "worst" kids in the system. I stood in on a session where a teacher and 13 students were talking about how to be a legal "hustler" -- mowing lawns, for instance, instead of selling drugs. Anytime students began to talk among themselves, which wasn't very much, the teacher would shout, "Respect!" The students would repeat back, "Respect!" And the discussion would go on.
I talked to two Success Academy teachers who are among the 36 the school system has hired from Jamaica. Unlike the teachers from the Philippines, who are used to students revering teachers in their country and often experience culture shock when they enter Baltimore's classrooms, these teachers said Jamaican kids can also be insubordinate. Still, they said the Success Academy students' behavior so far has been fine.
I'm sure the reality when visitors are not present isn't as rosy. But I think of the cynicism expressed a few weeks ago when the system announced it would try to get drop-outs to re-enroll, and the overwhelming response by kids who were all too happy to return to school simply because someone asked them to. Similarly, how many of these bad-behavior cases who have landed at Success Academy were just waiting for some positive attention?
Whether the students admit it or not, it's got to feel good to see the leaders of the city making such a fuss over them.