She added, "We really want to embrace our kids, and let them know that we need to pray together and stay together to make them successful. If this is what makes our children serene and peaceful, and in a healthy environment, then so be it."
LaTonya Greene, a parent volunteer at the school and mother of four students, said, "A lot of our kids have a lot of problems, and sometimes the school is their safe haven. I see what they go through every day, and sometimes you need to just pray about it."
Other city schools have held special events to prepare for the Maryland School Assessments.
At George Washington Elementary School, for example, students and faculty created a rap video called "My Pencil." More than 17,000 people had viewed the video last week on YouTube.
George Washington's principal, Amanda Rice, said finding creative ways to lift spirits and blow off steam makes a difference as students near the test. She said the staff, parent-teacher organization and family council begin brainstorming for appropriate motivational strategies at the beginning of the school year.
"It's very important," Rice said. "The stakes are higher; our kids are exposed to more and we have to meet them where their interest is currently at — pizza parties and stickers are not enough."
Jessica Shiller, education policy director for Advocates for Children and Youth, a nonprofit organization that monitors Baltimore schools, said all the special test preparations speak to a larger issue: an over-emphasis on standardized testing.
"The issue for me isn't the religion at all," Shiller said. "It's that there's so much pressure on schools to get their scores up for fear of punitive consequences, that there are these lengths people at schools feel that they need to go to in order to get their kids pumped up to do well on the test, because the test has become the end-all, be-all for learning.
"Whether it's prayer or the video, or the pep rallies, it's the mass hysteria because they're all scared."