Vision on North Avenue

August 28, 2005

JOLIE EAST-NIJI -- a 15-year-old interested in zoology, history and film -- begins high school tomorrow, and she's taking the unusual step of leaving a private school in Baltimore County for a Baltimore city public school. Moreover, while the Ashburton teenager had offers to attend two of the best city high schools -- Western and Poly -- Jolie instead decided to be among the first 119 students to attend a brand-new and highly innovative school: the Coppin Academy.

The choice was very simple, she says: "I want to be here ... because I know that it can help me do something with my life." Adds her mother, Nedra East-Niji, a bank teller: "Coppin offered more."

Indeed. Small classes. University science labs, computer centers and fine-arts studios. Student uniforms. Mentoring by college students. Advanced placement or even college classes. Study-abroad opportunities. And not least, a no-excuses vow that graduates will be admitted to college and not require any postgraduate remedial courses.

The academy, open to just ninth-graders this school year, was conceived by Coppin State University, will be housed on its North Avenue campus and will tap into the college's faculty and resources, with financial support from the Gates Marshall High School Redesign Project. It's been several years in the making, and its fruition is very much testimony to the vigor, values and vision that Stanley F. Battle is promoting at the 105-year-old historically black school since he became its president a little more than two years ago.

Coppin has been reaching out to its troubled neighborhood in West Baltimore. The academy is the next piece in the university's effort at building an "Urban Education Corridor," a process begun in 1998 when it took over and then turned around once-troubled Rosemont Elementary School. With Rosemont adding a middle school, Coppin will be offering area students kindergarten through college -- a 16-year program like only one other in the country, Coppin officials say.

Mr. Battle's ambitions don't stop there. Coppin boasts it's the only completely wireless state campus in Maryland; it just won a major national award for its network technology that puts it in the same league with Duke and Dartmouth. It's providing mentoring to some 60 boys with behavioral problems at Rosemont, Lemmel Middle School and Douglass High School, and it pays city students to attend a three-week SAT prep camp during the summers. Mr. Battle has been pitching the bold concept of a middle-school boarding school housed on the Coppin campus. And next month, the school will launch its most ambitious fundraising campaign ever, with a goal of $15 million. (Mr. Battle says his goal is $20 million.)

To drive around Coppin's neighborhood is to see so many needs to which education is a big part of the solution. The university's efforts to confront that challenge -- and its embrace of eager students such as Jolie -- deserve strong support from the entire Baltimore region.

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