Students join mayor in Dunbar Project to improve schools

February 05, 1991|By Gelareh Asayesh

The sun shone. The Dunbar Middle School band played. The mayor addressed the crowd, cracked a joke, aimed a jet of water at the graffiti on a concrete slab in inner-city East Baltimore and once again trotted out his personal vision for city schools.

Only this time, it was in the form of a pilot project that represents what Kurt L. Schmoke, the mayor who wants to be judged on his success in improving Baltimore's schools, proposes as the wave of the future.

Known as the Dunbar Project, it includes plans ranging from a student patrol that will crack down on litter to an ambitious volunteer-run, privately financed after-school program at Dunbar Middle. It typifies both the level of Mayor Schmoke's involvement in city schools and his philosophy of education. Both are viewed as being central to the mayor's re-election campaign.

The Dunbar Project was engineered by the mayor's office and by individual school principals with only peripheral involvement from school system headquarters on North Avenue. It involves almost no city money but a lot of people, ranging from parents and students to businesses and private foundations. It revolves around fulfilling the wish lists of individual schools.

"The Dunbar Project is a model for the future of education throughout Baltimore," Mr. Schmoke told a crowd of about 300, including almost 100 students, members of his Cabinet, school administrators from school headquarters, City Council member John A. Schaefer, D-1st, and representatives from other city agencies, who gathered at the center of a complex of schools in East Baltimore.

The project will focus on six East Baltimore schools known as the Dunbar-area schools. They are Dunbar Middle and Dunbar High School, Lombard Middle School and Thomas G. Hayes, City Springs and Charles Carroll of Carrollton elementaries.

It still faces a score of hurdles, ranging from sustaining the vast cadre of volunteers necessary for most of the programs to providing security for the after-school program.

But Frances Jolley, the principal of Dunbar Middle School, was brimful of confidence yesterday.

"I just have not seen this much excitement," she said. "I said to someone this morning, 'If I could fly, I would have flown.'. . . I have a whole lot of faith that things are going to move."

Principals and parents from the schools had been meeting with the mayor's office since December to talk about what they need in their schools. The Dunbar Project is an initial response to some of those needs.

The most dramatic element is an after-school program to be organized by the non-profit Family Support Foundation, whose board of directors has agreed to put up the $35,000 needed to convert the cafeteria at Dunbar Middle into a youth center.

Mrs. Jolley said she hoped to open the program, which would be staffed entirely by volunteers and open only to Dunbar Middle's 641 students, by March 1. The city will provide identity cards for students, said Arthur W. Sherwood, director of the Family Support Foundation.

Other elements of the Dunbar Project include:

* Parent volunteers, nicknamed Parents on Patrol, or POPs, who will patrol the school grounds before and after school in response to persistent complaints about security. An organization meeting drew about 35 parents last week. Volunteers will be trained by the city Police Department.

* Student volunteers, nicknamed Kids On Patrol, or KOPs, who will patrol for litter and graffiti. Dunbar Middle eighth-grader Kristy Moore, who is helping organize the group, said about 22 Dunbar Middle students had volunteered.

* A group of 40 black male professionals will serve as mentors for black male students to tackle what principals complain is a lack of positive role models for them.

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