The city school board voted last night to continue funding an alternative school in Kenya for at-risk middle-school boys that had been threatened with closure because of financial difficulties.
The Baraka School, which was opened by the Abell Foundation in 1996 as an alternative school for seventh- and eighth-graders struggling academically and behaviorally, will remain open for at least another two years.
The school system will continue subsidizing the program at the current level of about $6,400 per pupil, which goes toward Baraka's $14,000 annual tuition.
About 20 boys will be recruited by school officials and the Abell Foundation to begin the program for the coming fall.
"These young men have had - and are having - experiences and opportunities that they would never have, had they not gone to the Baraka School," said Patricia Morris Welch, one of three school board members who traveled to Kenya in November to visit the school.
"There is also a lot of structure to their lives, probably more structure than they would have here."
Early last year, it appeared that Baraka would not reopen for the current school year. But, during the summer, the school board reached a funding agreement with Abell that allowed the 17 boys enrolled in the program to complete their second year.
Baraka opened this school year with a former middle school teacher from Grosse Pointe, Mich., Richard Kroll Jr., as the new headmaster.
Three school board members visited Baraka in November. Welch, Michele B. Noel and Dorothy G. Siegel talked to the staff and pupils about their experiences, attended classes and joined some of the boys for a safari.
"I felt that it was a life-changing experience," Siegel told the board last night. "We did not go in anticipation that we would be so impressed with the changes these young men had made in their lives."
In approving the funding, the school board expressed concern about the lack of access to technology at Baraka, and suggested providing the boys with summer school instruction in computers when they return to Baltimore in between their two sessions abroad.
The board also said the curriculum at Baraka needs to be more coordinated with that of regular city schools, so the boys are prepared to re-enter high school locally after their return.
Technically, the boys are enrolled in the city school system.
The Abell Foundation had sought a $7,000-per-pupil contribution from the school system.
"We're very encouraged and appreciative," said Chris Doherty, former director of Baraka and current president of the school's board of trustees.
"We know that it wasn't that easy - and certainly not a rubber stamp - for the school board to come up with this money, so we're psyched," Doherty said.