FIRST THERE was the junior high, a sort of mezzanine between the hoods, child and adult.
Then, 30 years ago, they created the middle school, moving junior high down a notch to account for earlier maturation. Fallstaff Middle, created by converting an elementary school in Northwest Baltimore, was the first in the city. Now there are 25.
But middle schools in Baltimore may soon be outnumbered by a model that represents a step into the past. Planners propose converting a dozen elementary schools and one middle (Booker T. Washington) to a prekindergarten to eighth-grade organization.
Sound familiar? The Catholics and most private schools never abandoned it, arguing that the educational and social advantages of mixing kids across nine - or 10 or 11 - ages under the same school roof outweigh the disadvantages.
Baltimore has 18 such elementary-middle schools. Some were organized in the last decade or so in a none-too-subtle effort to keep middle-class kids in their neighborhood elementaries and out of the mammoth middle schools.
"Some ... middle schools have several feeder schools, and the principal has no control over the students he gets," said Craig Spilman, a pioneer city middle school principal who heads the CollegeBound Foundation. "A middle school principal is at the mercy of elementary schools, but that's not a problem in the K-8 model."
The elementary-middles are neighborhood schools by definition. And they have the family atmosphere evident at most parochial schools. Jeremy Simpson, 13, an eighth-grader at Glenmount Elementary-Middle in Northeast Baltimore, for example, has siblings in Glenmount's first, third, fifth and sixth grades.
Jeremy and classmate Christina Billy, also 13, leave the middle-school wing for 50 minutes each morning to act as mentors in Sara Kelvie's 35-pupil kindergarten downstairs. They're not tutors as much as they're showing younger children the ropes. "We teach them how to share and just have fun together," said Jeremy. "They need to know how to solve problems without yelling at each other."
Mary Donnelly, the Glenmount principal and a product of Baltimore parochial schools, said the older children's attitudes in an elementary-middle school "get very protective when they're around the little kids, and they're around them more than you might think."
Running a school of 735 pupils that spans nine or 10 grades is a formidable task, said Donnelly. Elementary teachers generally teach all subjects. Middle-school teachers specialize; their pupils move from class to class in six 50-minute periods. "The trick is to make it as seamless as possible," Donnelly said. "We try to cushion the shock of changing classes by introducing it in the fifth grade."
The chief advantage of the elementary-middle model is that children don't go off to a frightening new world after fifth grade. Lower school teachers know them and can advise teachers in the middle grades. "Everyone knows their strengths ... through school," said Donnelly. "And their weaknesses, too. It's a mixed blessing."
Pride of Baltimore II goes interactive from Ireland
The Pride of Baltimore II was to leave Baltimore, Ireland, yesterday, bound for Portugal, but not before the ship's captain, Jan Miles, and "teacher aboard," Lee Vogtman, held a live, interactive session with pupils at three city middle schools.
Pupils in high-tech studios at Canton, Hamilton and Highlandtown were able to watch each other ask questions and hear answers from Miles and Vogtman on a speaker phone. Eyes widened as Miles described a storm that hit just after the Pride reached safe harbor on the Irish coast.
Vogtman, a Brunswick High School teacher, is reporting from the Pride to any school with access to the World Wide Web. He's the second Maryland educator to win a "teacher aboard" fellowship from the State Department of Education. Waldorf teacher Leslie Ann Bridgett got the dream assignment in 1998, when the goodwill ship sailed to Asia.
The ship returns from its three-month European trip just before Thanksgiving. The Web address is www.pride2.org.