A pitch to plant a SEED in city

House panel urged to pass bill to bring boarding school for at-risk youths to Baltimore

General Assembly

March 03, 2006|By JILL ROSEN | JILL ROSEN,SUN REPORTER

Durrell Lewis, in his navy blazer and tie and his big plans for college, told state lawmakers yesterday that he is living proof of why Maryland needs a public boarding school.

Lewis, a senior at Washington's SEED School, the nation's first boarding program for at-risk youths, urged a House committee to pass a bill that would pave the way for a second school in Baltimore.

Safe at the boarding school, Lewis said, he was able to forget about the perils of the street and concentrate on his education.

"At SEED, I don't have to worry about whether my friends will make it, or if they're up to something they shouldn't be," said Lewis, who wants to become a computer engineer. "I am proud of the person I am now, and SEED has allowed me to become that person."

Delegates on the House Ways and Means Committee warmly embraced the costly pitch that would bring the celebrated SEED program to Baltimore in 2009.

They watched a video montage of accolades the Washington program has gotten from Oprah Winfrey, Ted Koppel and others.

"I'm fascinated by this," said Del. Terry R. Gilleland Jr., a Republican from Anne Arundel County. "I'm very, very proud to be a co-sponsor" of the bill.

Washington's SEED school, which opened in 1998, enrolls 320 students in the seventh through 12th grades. Students are chosen for the program through a lottery.

SEED is short for Schools for Educational Evolution and Development.

Mayor Martin O'Malley has wanted to bring such a school to Baltimore ever since he visited the Washington institution, Deputy Mayor Jean Hitchcock said yesterday.

The SEED Foundation spent the past year developing a plan for the Baltimore expansion with a grant from the Abell Foundation.

"Tears came to my eyes when I saw the school," Hitchcock told the committee, adding that the program has found a way to turn "burdens to society" into "wonderful human beings."

SEED built its campus in Southeast Washington on the site of a burned-out elementary school, which is near neighborhoods where many of its students live.

One of its founders, Eric Adler, told the committee yesterday that organizers have private donors who would build a $40 million to $50 million school building in Baltimore.

"We have proven in Washington, D.C., that this school can change lives, so now let's change lives in Maryland," Adler said.

Nearly all of the students who attend SEED go on to college, Adler told delegates. Of those, 90 percent are the first in their families to do so.

"These young people are breaking the cycle of poverty for their families and changing their communities forever," he said.

Though the school would not open until 2009, the legislation asks for state money beginning next year to hire an education specialist.

Once the boarding program began, officials estimate, it would cost the state $2 million plus additional $846,000 from local school system "tuition" payments.

The school would enroll 80 students, officials estimate, nearly all of them from Baltimore but including 5 percent from Baltimore County and 5 percent from other state school systems.

Adler said SEED would like to build boarding schools soon in California, Illinois and Wisconsin.

The State Department of Education and the State Board of Education support the bill.

Senators will hear the bill next week.

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

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