Here's what middle school students would do if they ran City Hall:
* Turn Memorial Stadium into a homeless shelter.
* Crack down on guns, and hire more police to patrol Baltimore's drug-ridden neighborhoods.
*Clean up the city's dirty streets, and keep trash out of the harbor and the Chesapeake Bay.
"If I were mayor of Baltimore," wrote Antoinette Dubose of West Baltimore Middle School, "there would be a lot of things that I would like to change."
She and more than 150 other students laid out their proposals in a series of essays, written as part of a popular program designed to spur good school attendance. Known as the Gold Card Program, the initiative gives discounts at businesses to students with good attendance.
This year, the students got a chance to sound off on what they would do as mayor of Baltimore.
The first-prize winner, Naquita Matthews, who graduated from Lombard Middle School this year, would make homelessness, litter and illicit weapons her top priorities.
"Instead of demolishing the Memorial Stadium, I would have it made to be a shelter for the homeless," she wrote. She also proposed that schools could raise money for the shelter residents, and farmers could donate surplus food for them.
In her second-prize essay, Shannon Forney of Benjamin Franklin Middle School also talked about cleaning up the city and helping the homeless.
"Then I would get all the killers and drug dealers off the streets and into jail," she wrote. "I would do that by getting more policemen and policewomen out on the streets. I would also buy some abandoned buildings and turn them into police stations."
All these initiatives are sure to cost money -- a fact not lost on Antoinette Dubose, the third-place winner.
"The first thing I would like to change is taxes," she wrote. "I think taxes should be raised to help build more shelters for the homeless and more centers for abused children."
But "taxes should only be placed on things that people don't really need, such as: candy, cigarettes and lottery tickets."
The essays reflect the students' deep-felt concerns about the city's problems, said Karen Sitnick, project director for Commonwealth Youth Employment Services.
"These are children who saw things that children in other areas or counties aren't familiar with: homelessness, drugs, crime," she said. Yet "every one of those essays was optimistic."
At a luncheon to honor them yesterday at the Cross Keys Inn, the students said they were inspired by their own experiences and observations.
"As you walk downtown, you see all these people walking around, laying on the ground -- that's why I thought about Memorial Stadium," said Naquita Matthews. In addition, she said, "there's so many people who have died because of guns."
Robert Johnson, a Robert Poole Middle School student and the fourth-place winner, said he is fed up with the "daily drugs and killing" in the city. "They need more police on the streets," he said.
The top three prize-winners read their essays to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's Cabinet earlier this month.