City youths' education in Kenya to be supported by public funds Their academic progress impresses Schmoke

February 27, 1997|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

Impressed with the first-semester progress of 18 Baltimore boys at a new private boarding school in Kenya, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has pledged about $68,000 this year to their continuing education.

The money will be shifted from the public school budget to support the nonprofit Baraka School, which opened in September on ranch land more than three hours north of Nairobi.

All 18 students -- ages 11, 12 and 13 -- were recruited by Baraka from Baltimore middle schools. Schmoke has agreed to send to the private school the city allocation that would have funded their public education. That amounts to $3,800 apiece, said Kate Walsh, the project's coordinator at the Abell Foundation, the Baraka School's main backer.

The share of Baltimore's school budget provided by the state won't be touched, city officials said. The Maryland attorney general's office has advised against spending state tax money for a private school. Legislation would be needed to permit that, state officials said.

Schmoke said he saw no obstacles to using city money.

The Baraka School, designed to remove youths from crime-ridden communities and immerse them in a stringent remedial curriculum, is run by Elimu Inc., a Maryland-based nonprofit foundation whose directors are American and African.

Elimu obtained land in Kenya for the school, which was constructed with a $360,000 grant from the Abell Foundation. It wanted to provide an international experience for the students.

"Publicly sponsored boarding schools make sense for a certain number of our children," Schmoke said yesterday.

"I've talked to some people about this idea, and they recoil in horror thinking we are creating latter-day orphanages, and that is xTC the furthest thing from our minds. The idea is to take them there and bring them back better students than they were when they '' left."

Unlike city public schools, where teachers' efforts can be thwarted by strife in poor neighborhoods, "at Baraka, you have control, constant contact with the students so you can keep them on task," said Christopher J. Doherty, the school's director, who was in Baltimore this week to meet parents, city officials and financial backers.

L Students are up at 6: 30 a.m. and in bed at 9 p.m., he said.

A regimented curriculum, emphasizing mastery of basic skills before advancement, drills home math and reading lessons.

There is a teacher for every three students, Doherty said. Evening study hall is mandatory and is overseen by staff members, he said.

Fifteen of the 18 boys tested at below grade level in reading before leaving Baltimore in September. Now, 10 have advanced to grade level, he said.

Some of the sixth- and seventh-graders had not mastered multiplication and division in Baltimore. Now, 14 of the 18 students have progressed through two grade levels of their math curriculum, Doherty said.

The school day includes classes in spelling, American and African history, chess, Swahili, comprehension, science and etiquette, he said.

Pub Date: 2/27/97

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