IT WAS SHORTLY after 3:30 p.m. when the buses started streaming around the corner to pick up students in the front of what was once Southwestern High School, but what is now Southwestern plus two other high schools.
Terry Leverett, Southwestern's basketball and football coach, stopped a Southwestern student who got out of school at 2:30 p.m.
"Why are you still here?" he asked her. The girl mumbled something barely audible as she headed for the buses.
"She sticks around to take the 3:30 bus," Leverett said. Several Southwestern students do that, he said, to avoid the lengthy trek down Font Hill Avenue to Frederick Road to wait for Mass Transit Administration No. 2 buses. Some students complain that they're often left standing by buses that don't stop.
Southwestern is school No. 412. The buses that bring students to campus at 8:45 a.m. and pick them up at 3:30 p.m. are especially earmarked for students at two new schools, 429 and 430, which have shared the same building with Southwestern since the start of the academic year.
Schools 429 and 430 owe their existence to the brilliant thinking of the folks down at the Kremlin - school headquarters on North Avenue - who have this notion that by breaking up Baltimore's high schools into increasingly smaller high schools, somehow educational nirvana will be achieved. You can't go into what was only one Baltimore school anymore without finding a new, smaller high school stuck in there.
When I visited what I thought was Harlem Park Middle School earlier this year, there was a high school taking up space in what once was my beloved "Unit D" from the days when I attended what was then Harlem Park Jr. High School. What was once just plain old Thurgood Marshall Middle School is now Thurgood Marshall Middle/High School. If you live within the city limits of Baltimore, be careful when you go home at night: The big brains down at the Kremlin might have installed a high school in your house or apartment building when you were out.
This multi-high school mania - we may have a couple of hundred before it's all done - hit Southwestern in September. It has also, according to some students, led to an unfair problem with the bus service provided by the MTA. Students at schools 429 and 430, the 8:45 a.m. to 3:35 p.m. group, get buses that pick them up and drop them off in front of the school. Students at school 412 - Southwestern - are on a 7:45 a.m. to 2:35 p.m. schedule and are left to get there and get home as best they can.
"We're getting the short end of the stick on everything - supplies, books, bus service," said Ranora Coppage, a 17-year-old junior who can graduate this school year if she gets enough credits. That may be kind of hard. Coppage has English III for her first-period class. She's been late several times, she said, because of poor bus service. Coppage only got a 65 in English for the first quarter. Many of Southwestern's students, she said, have failed the first-period class, are doing poorly or are barely hanging on because many of them don't make it.
Demetrice Brown, 17, takes a bus or light rail from Cherry Hill and then transfers downtown to get to Southwestern. The senior's been late several times and only got a 70 in "Man and Culture," her first-period class.
Tyaira Clopton, a 16-year-old junior, is in the same boat. She got a 70 in her first-period world history class.
Donte Williamson, a 17-year-old junior, got a 60 in his first-period physics class.
Chad Jones failed English II, his first-period class. The 17-year-old sophomore transfers to a No. 2 downtown after taking a No. 27 from Cherry Hill.
Cierra Dozier, 17, comes to Southwestern from Edmondson Village. Sometimes she takes a No. 23. When it doesn't come, she grabs a hack. The senior is failing first-period physics.
Edie House, a spokeswoman for the school system, said that Southwestern's principal, Darline Lyles, changed its schedule to avoid having too many students arriving and leaving school at the same time, which was a concern not only for school staff but for residents of the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood where the three schools are located.
"We asked the MTA if they could accommodate a 7:45-to-2:35 schedule," House said. "They said no." That was in September. The school system tried again in November, and got the same answer. House said school officials will meet with Lyles to finally resolve the bus issue.
Perhaps they might try for the simple, but harsh solution: either all students at the school get dedicated bus service, or none do.