Stewart Kesmodel says he thinks about crime and violence in Baltimore, though not as much as he thinks about getting into college.
"What happens is people hear things and the impact of the stories, but a day or two days later, it's in the back of their minds," the 17-year-old Gilman School senior said yesterday.
Stewart and almost 1,000 other students at three exclusive Baltimore prep schools turned their thoughts to violence in society for seven hours yesterday.
Many of the prep school students live in exclusive neighborhoods like Roland Park, Homeland and Ruxton. On campus, students at Gilman, Roland Park Country School and Bryn Mawr are usually sheltered from the crime and violence faced by their counterparts in city public schools -- drug peddling, shootings, students who bring weapons to class and verbal and physical assaults on teachers.
"A lot of times, we're oblivious going to private schools. We're surrounded by people like us all day," said Jennifer Quartner, a 14-year-old student at Bryn Mawr. "I've never seen a gun, never had possession of a gun. You hear about shooting and other dangerous things and I think I'm very lucky. The place to start is with children my age. Soon, we'll be the people making the decisions, so to teach us early is . . . a good start."
At a time in the city's history when the number of murders could surpass last year's record of 335, students and administrators at the three schools decided that violence would be the topic of this year's Human Rights Day observance.
Seminars were conducted at all the schools and included sessions on gun control, domestic violence, violence in sports, violence against minorities and terrorism. The students from the schools then gathered at Gilman for the keynote address by Washington Post columnist Colman McCarthy, who urged them to become peace advocates and to practice conflict resolution.
"We are bringing the problems we have in the inner city to the forefront of the students' minds," said Arch Montgomery, Gilman's headmaster.
Joan Smith, who heads the upper school at Roland Park Country, said she's detected a sense of fear among students because of the crime problem. The three schools have hired a private security firm to patrol areas of Roland Avenue and Northern Parkway during school hours to ensure the safety of the students.
"Coming to school here is a luxury from a safety standpoint," Ms. Smith said. "They are unlike their peers, they don't have to worry about who next to them has a gun."
Many students said they were horrified by incidents last week on city streets in which two 10-year-old children were hit by stray gunfire -- a boy died and a girl was wounded. Very few of the students said they were accustomed to hearing gunshots near their homes.
"I've seen things in my own neighborhood, people being chased who allegedly had guns and you hear gunshots," said Marcus Simms, one of Gilman's 52 black students and the son of city State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms. "We need to unite ourselves to help combat violence but a lot of people don't want to do it."
Gilman senior Mark Cornes said he may be willing to volunteer. "There is a disgust in here. . . . Hopefully, if enough people begin to understand what's acceptable and what's not," things can change.