Social Work's Promise Heights Receives $30M Grant

September 14, 2018    |  

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Promise Heights, an initiative led by the University of Maryland School of Social Work (SSW), a five-year, $30 million grant to continue its efforts to improve the lives of children and families in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Upton/Druid Heights.

The grant award was announced by the Department of Education as part of the Promise Neighborhoods Implementation Grants Program. This is one of 24 Promise Neighborhood implementation awards announced since 2011, the only one in Maryland, and the only one hosted by a school of social work. Promise Neighborhoods support schools in high-poverty communities to become vibrant centers of opportunity and excellence.

Linda West and her son, Tristan, are all smiles at a Parent University graduation ceremony at the Crispus Attucks Recreation Center. Parent University is one of many Promise Heights programs that will benefit from a new federal grant award.

Linda West and her son, Tristan, are all smiles at a Parent University graduation ceremony at the Crispus Attucks Recreation Center. Parent University is one of many Promise Heights programs that will benefit from a new federal grant award.

“UMB’s work in the Southwest Baltimore community has been greatly influenced by the pioneering efforts of our School of Social Work and Promise Heights,” said Jay A. Perman, MD, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, (UMB), Promise Heights’ leading partner. “To a large extent, they showed us how to do engagement the right way, how to get input and buy-in from the community, how to grow resources, how to attract partners, and how to sustain meaningful activity, even when sustaining is difficult. This grant shows that hard, hard work pays off, and I couldn’t be happier.”

UMB’s schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, and pharmacy also participate in the initiative in Upton/Druid Heights, a neighborhood near UMB that includes parts of historic Pennsylvania Avenue and extends as far south as Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Eutaw Place to the east.

“This funding provides access to educational and enrichment opportunities that underfunded and under-resourced schools like the ones in Upton/Druid Heights so desperately need,” said Promise Heights Executive Director Bronwyn Mayden, MSW. “When we talk about the achievement gap for children of color, we should be more focused on the lack of equity which exists for schools in high-poverty neighborhoods.”

The implementation grant enables Promise Heights to continue its comprehensive plan for combating poverty and increasing academic achievement in the local community. This grant builds on the $500,000 planning grant awarded to Promise Heights in 2013 that generated the capacity to deliver and evaluate a full array of evidence-based services, from cradle to career, and matching funds from local foundations and local, state, and federal partners. The planning grant was used to collect data, convene focus groups, meet with school principals, and determine the needs of the neighborhood, Mayden said.

“Promise Heights endeavors, every day, to combine the best of community-based participatory program development and evidence-based practices,” said SSW Dean Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW. “We are providing research-informed parenting programs, multi-tiered systems of student support, trauma-informed interventions, and reading interventions. Matching community needs to effective programming has been a great learning lesson. We have also had to become exceptionally skilled grant writers, having scores of grant proposals (many to help support community partners) over the last decade to develop the capacity to justify this funding. Bronwyn Mayden’s innovative and indefatigable leadership of these efforts has been astounding.”

Money from the implementation grant will be used to bring additional supports to the five public schools in Upton/Druid Heights, such as early childhood mental health consultation, social-emotional support, academic support and enrichment, and college and career coaching to ensure pathways out of poverty for youth and their families, Mayden said. Targeted schools in the neighborhood include: Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary School; Furman L. Templeton Preparatory Academy; Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary; Booker T. Washington Middle School for the Arts; and Renaissance Academy High School.

Other benefits of the grant will include:

  • Increasing the number of community residents hired by Promise Heights to improve outcomes in their neighborhood. Examples include: expanding B’more for Healthy Babies to reach more pregnant and parenting families to reduce infant mortality and increase protective factors for newborns and infants; hiring parent leaders at each school to increase parent leadership and advocacy skills; and employing graduates of Parent University parent education classes to lead future cohorts and mentor other neighborhood parents.
  • Expanding work with neighborhood early childhood education providers to ensure children make age-appropriate progress toward literacy, numeracy, social-emotional development, and other skills that contribute to kindergarten readiness.
  • Providing early childhood mental health consultants to support families and provide professional development for teachers.
  • Expanding tutoring services at each of the three elementary schools.
  • Increasing after-school slots at each of the five schools to provide extended learning programming designed to support grade-level attainment in reading and math.
  • Expanding mentoring services to cover students in grades K-12.
  • Adding additional student services coordinators, AmeriCorps members, and masters of social work interns at each of the five community schools in the Upton/Druid Heights neighborhood.
  • Providing college and career coordinators at the middle and high schools to assist each student in creating a personalized path to postsecondary success.

Since 2009, the SSW has worked alongside community residents and local partners planning, creating, and implementing strategies to significantly improve the educational and developmental outcomes of children and families in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Upton/Druid Heights. The intention of Promise Heights is to offer services from cradle to college or career.

At the beginning, a small group of community residents, ministers, researchers, social workers, and educators met to review the educational and health data for students who attend the five public schools in the neighborhood. The data showed that Upton/Druid Heights was ranked 55th of Baltimore’s 55 neighborhoods for many of the indicators tracked by the Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD). The initial group agreed that one organization could not significantly improve the academic and developmental outcomes and agreed to create a sustained, coordinated commitment to a collective impact process to serve vulnerable children and their families.

There are more than 30 partners, including neighborhood resident associations; Office of the Mayor; UMB; Maryland State Department of Education; Baltimore City Public Schools; Baltimore City Health Department; Family League of Baltimore; United Way of Central Maryland; Druid Heights Community Development Corporation; Community Churches for Community Development; AARP Experience Corps; Baltimore Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope (CASH) Campaign; Reading Partners; and the Office of the Governor. Philanthropic support from many foundations and individuals also has built the capacity of Promise Heights to compete for this highly coveted award.

For more information about Promise Heights, please visit