Wendy Samet, a former board president at the school, mother of two students there and a white Bolton Hill resident, is a believer -- not just in Midtown's academic success, but also in its ability to bridge the gap between affluent Bolton Hill and struggling Reservoir Hill.
This year, seven students in the kindergarten class -- nearly one-third -- are white, The first year, there were only three.
"Bolton Hill clearly didn't trust us right away," she said. "But now people are saying, 'There's a good school right here in my neighborhood.'"
10 a.m., Edmondson Village
It's orientation day at St. Bernardine's Head Start and Learning Center in Edmondson Village, and the basement auditorium is humming, Mothers, grandmothers, aunts, fathers and -- most important -- the children fill the chairs set up 12 across and 10 rows deep. Toddlers wiggle and whisper, peeking out from behind jackets and notebooks.
Acting director Angela Ligon sets down the challenge: "These are the children of the millennium. They are our babies, but they are your children. You are your child's primary educator."
She is swift and sure in reminding parents of their jobs. Of entreating them to get involved in the learning lives of their bright-faced children. Ms. Ligon is an able leader, reaching into the crowd and trying to open each person's eyes to possibilities for the whole family.
This 18th year at St. Bernardine's is beginning like many others in troubled neighborhoods in Baltimore. The goal is rebuilding from within, one family at a time.
Anees Abdul-Rahim, the male involvement director, speaks about the Creator's intention in forming families and repairing bonds that have been broken. Will they help him? Heads nod and murmurs run across the rows of seats.
It's 11:05. The little ones' heads are now resting in laps. Arms and legs twitch impatiently. How much longer?
The teachers file to the lectern and call their students. The Imani room, the Heshema room -- each classroom in this Afrocentric program is named for someone or something unique to African-American culture. Heads perk up. Backpacks and jackets rustle. Students and caregivers fall into line.
"That's your teacher," a woman chirps to the little boy standing beside her. Wide-eyed, he looks up into the forest of adults, mustering a self-conscious wave, then drops his hand to his baseball cap, working the edge hard.
"You were my friend last year," his teacher says reassuringly. "I remember you"
Many of the members of the Education Team came to St. Bernardine's' first as moms. The adult education program at St. B's offers a 90-hour childhood education certification program, which qualifies graduates to be teacher's assistants. The Head Start program helps pay tuition for those who choose to earn bachelor's degrees and become teachers.
That's how Angela Ligon came into the program 10 years ago. She is busy this day, making sure all will be ready when the 200 registered children arrive. While they are here, they will learn a bit about the social graces and practice prereading skills. They will also learn Swahili, take cultural field trips and begin to weave the African values on their classroom walls into their own lives.
More than that, these children of the millennium, and their families, will learn about hope and opportunity in their West Baltimore neighborhood. And that most any stumbling block can be removed, with the help of caring neighbors.
11a. m., Reisterstown Road
Reisterstown Road Plaza: An oasis of calm awaits the very old and very young-- a city mall that boasts all the activity you'd find in some suburban spots.
Several folks sit in the chairs scattered abundantly, some in twos, most singly, silent and expressionless. Few will see 80 again. More are white than black, while the few shoppers are more black than white. Workers in the stores are black, white and Asian.
As the minutes mount, activity picks up. Back to School sales are everywhere (back-packs, $6.99). Two boys, 10 and 12, examine running shoes. Why aren't they Back to School?
This is like Oriole Park in batting practice. Too few people, but the storekeepers are sweeping, rearranging and preparing for the game.
The mall looks prosperous, with only a few vacancies. Where Caldor's closed, wall-boards block the entrance, displaying art by third-graders at Cross Country Elementary School.
A vigorous man in his 60s, arms pumping, face frozen in a half-smile, strides purposefully by on the west side heading south, sporting blue polo shirt, khaki shorts and walking shoes. He sails to Burlington Coat Factory's door and swerves northbound on the east side. First mall-walker of the morning.
The pace picks up as noon approaches. Young parents with preschool children cruise the shops. Important-looking gents in white shirts and ties descend from the offices. Fast-food patrons join brown-baggers at the tables.