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Promise Heights Partners Enrich the Lives of Children and Families in West Baltimore

Leaders of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) and city officials on two recent occasions have been invited to see for themselves how expanded opportunities at two elementary schools can brighten the lives of families in the Promise Heights neighborhood.

Principals at The Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School (HSCT) and Furman L. Templeton Preparatory Academy (FLT) opened their doors to show off the schools' latest amenities and accomplishments. Each public school is located only a short distance from campus in Upton/Druid Heights, a high-poverty part of Baltimore that is the focus of the UMB-led Promise Heights initiative.

The initiative is partially funded by a Promise Neighborhoods planning grant from the U.S. Department of Education and led by the UM School of Social Work (SSW) in collaboration with the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, and others.

SSW Dean Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW; and Bronwyn Mayden, MSW, executive director of Promise Heights and SSW assistant dean, were introduced to a large gathering of community leaders, parents, and educators at a ceremony on Sept. 23 at HSCT, 507 W. Preston St. in West Baltimore.

After months of renovation work, HSCT dedicated a completely redesigned and relocated library made possible by a grant from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, part of the foundation's $10 million Baltimore Elementary and Middle School Library Project. One aspect of the project is an Enoch Pratt Parent Place, furnished with armchairs, designed for parents and guardians of the 420 students enrolled at HSCT.

"Read every book in this room," Mayden admonished the youngsters chosen to represent each grade, including pre-kindergarten, reminding them in so many words of the goal of Promise Heights: to improve the lives of children from cradle to college or career. "When you're ready for graduate school, see us on our campus," she said. "You are the future doctors, nurses, social workers, and pharmacists, and I want you to take care of me!"

Speakers included HSCT Principal Harold Barber, EdD; Senior Pastor Alvin C. Hathaway of Union Baptist Church, which is among Promise Heights' faith-based partners; Amy Rosenkrans, director of the Office of Humanities at Baltimore City Public Schools; Baltimore City State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein, JD '81; and Baltimore City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young.

It was Young who told the children that reading has a practical side, such as building vocabulary, but can mean far more. "Books take you anywhere around the world," he said. Given that, HSCT pupils have endless destinations ahead.

The Heart of America Foundation provided nearly 1,500 books on the day of the ceremony so each child was able to take home three or four books at the proper reading level to start their personal libraries. At school, under the guidance of librarian Emmanuel Faulkner, the children can utilize an attractive, flexible space equipped with an array of titles, technology and areas designed for special uses.

During the dedication, one special area became a stage for a reading by author Tremontenia Morgan, school secretary at HSCT,who then led her African dance troupe in a performance of the funga, a dance that is the subject of her book.

The Heart of America and the Maryland Food Bank partnered with the Weinberg Foundation to make HSCT the site of a mobile food pantry. Starting on dedication day, families who registered were able to take home 25 pounds of food per child.

Promise Heights staff helping with the giveaway and tours of the library were Mayden; Rachel Donegan, JD, program director of Promise Heights; Liz Buchanan, MSW '13, LGSW, the HSCT Community Resource School site coordinator (who is shown with a young reader in the photo above); and Claire Meringolo, LCSW-C, mental health consultant at HSCT's Judy Center, part of the Judith P. Hoyer Program in the Maryland State Department of Education.

As a result of the library vacating its former space at HSCT, Meringolo and the rest of the Judy Center staff were able to relocate their services, allowing more room to offer mental health services and family literacy to families with children up to age 5.

The first Promise Heights partner school to house early childhood services was FLT, 1200 N. Pennsylvania Ave., which now offers not only a Judy Center but also the Metro Delta Head Start program and the Martin Luther King Jr. Early Head Start program.

That portion of the public charter school building was on the tour Sept. 9 when FLT Principal Debra Santos welcomed University President Jay A. Perman, MD, and other UMB leaders. Perman, a pediatrician, soon took on the challenge of attempting to soothe a fussy 23-month old who, at that moment, was being held by JaVon Townsend, MSW '12, LGSW, who helps staff Early Head Start.

Upstairs at FLT, which operates on a year-round academic schedule and emphasizes use of technology in its curriculum, UMB visitors observed first-graders learning the basics in a computer lab and third-graders using tablets and an interactive whiteboard. The tools were high-tech yet the students' recent subject matter was ancient: Greek mythology.

As the group paused at a wall display of the class papers on the Pandora myth, Perman and others were pleased to see a notation about the collaborative nature of the project, given that collaboration is a core value of the University.

The UMB group, which also visited HSCT, included Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, chief academic and research officer, senior vice president, and dean of the Graduate School; Peter N. Gilbert, MSF, chief operating officer and senior vice president; Laura Kozak, MA, assistant vice president, communications and public affairs; and the SSW's Mayden and Barth. He is a member of the FLT board.

Early childhood development also is the focus of a Promise Heights program called Parent University that for the fourth time in as many years is teaching parents how to best engage with their infants and toddlers and keep them safe and healthy.

The 10-week session is held at Pennsylvania Avenue AME Zion Church, a faith-based partner, and began Oct. 1. This is the largest class yet, with several three-generation families and 24 families (more than 45 people) with children from birth to age 3 participating.

Students, staff, and faculty at UMB are encouraged to volunteer at Parent University and other activities of Promise Heights such as a FamilyFest, held recently at the Robert C. Marshall Recreation Center field across Pennsylvania Avenue from FLT and the Day of Hope and Promise, held in August.

Posting Date: 10/02/2013
Contact Name: Patricia Fanning
Contact Phone: 410-706-7946
Contact Email: pfanning@umaryland.edu