Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

Advocating for Adult Education On and Off the Job

February always has us watching the state budget process. While we’ve been spreading the word about the Baltimore Education Coalition‘s campaign to prevent cuts to public education funding, you might not know that the Governor’s budget affects our Adult Literacy & ESOL Program as well.

Todd ElliottRecently we caught up with Adult Literacy & ESOL Program Director Todd Elliott to talk to him about his work at GHCC and on the state level as an advocate for adult education. Todd has worked at GHCC for the past 10 years, and in addition to his efforts here he serves as President of the Board of Directors for the Maryland Association for Adult, Community and Continuing Education (a volunteer role).

Read the interview »


Building Capacity in Baltimore Schools

Every winter, education advocates across Maryland hit the streets to educate parents and residents on funding cuts on the table for their neighborhood schools.
The Baltimore Education Coalition (BEC) is made up of organizations from across Baltimore City that improve public schools. GHCC was a founding member of the BEC when it formed in 2009, together with organizations like BUILD, Child First Authority, and the ACLU of Maryland.
Jimmy Stuart is an AmeriCorps*VISTA member working in Success Academy, an alternative high school located at the Baltimore City Schools headquarters on North Avenue. As a VISTA, Jimmy is building sustainability in Success Academy’s programs—he sees firsthand how important adequate funding is to maintaining good schools. VISTA guidelines dictate that Jimmy can’t join BEC, but he can help lay the foundation for an active and engaged group of city residents and parents. Today we caught up with Jimmy to ask him about his work.
You’re an AmeriCorps*VISTA member—what does this mean in terms of restrictions on your personal involvement in advocacy efforts?
As a VISTA, I’m prevented from doing anything that ties the VISTA name or image to a political cause. In my project this year, I’m improving the quality and sustainability of programs provided to students at Success Academy, an alternative high school run by Baltimore City Schools. I’m involved with the BEC because funding for schools is directly tied to the goals of my project. In that capacity, I can inform people in the community about how to get involved with this work. I can talk about the BEC, help run meetings, and organize actions. But the actions themselves have to come from BEC members, not me. Simply put, I can tell people how to get to the bus to Annapolis, but I can’t get on the bus myself.
Your role is all about giving others a voice and making sure Baltimore’s citizens are engaged in the legislative process. How does this make you feel at the end of the day? Do you prefer empowering others over being on the front lines, or is it a struggle not to get your hands dirty?
Even if I was doing direct advocacy, the work would be pointless if we weren’t focused on informing others so they know what it means to be advocates for themselves. The need is too great for anyone to do this alone—Baltimore needs a loud, strong voice for our schools. Funding for education affects me, but many other people in this city are closer to the issue than I am. Providing people who are closest to the problem with the information to affect change is going to yield far better results than anything I could do on my own.
Sure, I’ll be disappointed I can’t get on the buses to Annapolis with our community members. But the experience of inspiring people and getting them to that point is something that I’ll carry with me much longer than that momentary disappointment.           
What is your favorite aspect of GHCC’s advocacy work? What have you learned during your tenure here?
What I appreciate most about GHCC’s advocacy work is our awareness of the many different issues affect each other and affect our work. Advocacy often gets broken down into smaller and smaller compartments—you meet people who are passionate about one issue, and one issue only. At GHCC, there’s an understanding that many issues affect our work, and if we want to do our work well, we can’t just plug away on one of them. It all matters.
The quality of our public schools affects us all. Sometimes we think that funding for schools only matters if those schools educate our own children or cut our paychecks. Excellent public schools are critical to building strong and vibrant urban communities. Every family should be excited about sending their children to their neighborhood school. If we want people to invest in this city—to buy and care for a home, to open a quality business, to get involved in their community—we need strong public schools.
Give us a little background on the current education funding crisis and how BEC is trying to help.
It’s an unfortunate fact, but each year school communities are challenged to do more and more with less and less. The state proposes cuts every year, but the cuts this year could be worse than the city has seen in a long time. Not only could the city lose a significant amount of direct funding for schools, but there is a push at the state level to transfer the cost of teacher pensions from the state to local school districts—an incredible expense for city schools to take on.
The state of Maryland is facing a $1.6 billion budget shortfall—a hole in state spending that has been plugged up by stimulus money for the last two years. There is going to be enormous pressure within the state legislature to cut spending—including spending for schools—when the budget is introduced in January.
           
For this coming budget session, the BEC has three goals: to maintain current funding for Baltimore City Public Schools; to get elected officials to develop a comprehensive funding plan for the school facilities improvement plan proposed by the ACLU; and to encourage Baltimore’s delegates to work better together on protecting our schools.  
Tell us a little bit about the advocacy training on Thursday. What do you hope people will come away with?
The event on Thursday is a workshop and action. We have targeted key leaders in our school communities to attend the event. We hope to provide them with a clear sense of the potential funding crisis, and to collaborate on how to get people from our communities involved in preventing cuts and improving school facilities. The event will also be an opportunity to celebrate our schools and to get people fired up about our work.
The pressure to cut funding is going to be very strong this year, and those cuts could be devastating for our public schools. I hope people walk away with a sense of hopeful urgency—that it can be done, but it will require all the strength we can muster to do it.
If you are interested in attending the workshop and action at Digital Harbor High School this Thursday, or learning more about the work of the Baltimore Education Coalition, please contact Jimmy at 410.929.3657 or jstuart@strongcitybaltimore.org. 

University of Maryland Social Work & GHCC

Each year, GHCC hosts a Masters in Social Work (MSW) intern at our office.  This year we have been lucky to have Sarah Rogerson, who has taken a moment to share her story with us as she prepares to graduate.  We’ll miss you, Sarah!


Submitted by Sarah Rogerson

Carolina is where I call home.  I was born in Raleigh, NC, and spent six years of my childhood in Israel with missionary parents.  We came back to the states for my teenage years and lived in Murrells Inlet, just south of Myrtle Beach.  Since my family’s always been fairly mobile, it came as no surprise to them that I decided to move to Baltimore after coming home from my two-year volunteer stint in Malawi, Central Africa.  I really think it’s all this moving around that helps me adapt in personal, academic, and professional life.

A scholarship to study social work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) piqued my interest in the city.  The scholarship was offered through Peace Corps Fellows, a program for returned volunteers.  Since my bachelors degree is in social work from Winthrop University (outside of Charlotte), I was awarded credits toward advanced standing status at UMB for their social work masters program, allowing me to complete my masters in one full year.  I was also drawn to this program in Baltimore because it has a macro option, focusing on management and community organizing.  Always up for a challenge, I’d been looking to expand my experience in the urban sphere.  South Carolina and rural Malawi are laid-back areas, so I was ready for a diverse, fast-paced, action-packed city.  Enter Baltimore.

Once I arrived, I had to choose between two field placements for my MSW (Master of Social Work) internship.  I chose GHCC because of the immediate warmth I felt upon entering the office and the historically strong community connection.  I knew exactly what kind of experience I wanted: a closer look at non-profit management concurrent with hands-on organizing.

I got everything and more at GHCC.  Harmoniously, several tasks I undertook here with this well-established community organization fell in line with classes I took at UMB.  As I studied social action, I was able to join with the Baltimore Education Coalition alongside a multitude of reputable organizations in advocating for full funding for quality education in the city.  My program management class gave me the knowledge to contribute meaningfully to the strategic planning team with key board members and staff.  Finally, my community organizing class gave me the skills to help organize a parent group at the Barclay School.

All of these broad community issues are ones GHCC tackles on a daily basis, making it one of the most unique and competitive organizations of its kind in Baltimore.  If that isn’t enough, the friendly staff have become like a family to me – one I will sorely miss!  

Every aspect of my work at GHCC, though not always planned or perfectly executed, has contributed to the career and personal path I will follow.  Grounded now in community non-profit experience, I feel well-equipped to find a social work job that incorporates these elements.  As I complete my degree program and internship at GHCC, I am grateful for the opportunity to have learned so much from such a competent, driven team of staff dedicated to the continuous improvement of Baltimore City.


Baltimore Algebra Project Organizes Rally for Youth Opportunities

Spring is on the way!  How do we know? We’re hearing about education advocates planning rallies, bus rides to Annapolis, and petitions to keep education funding cuts at bay as state lawmakers craft their budgets.  One such organization is the Baltimore Algebra Project, a student-run and -organized program founded to provide math tutoring to elementary and middle school students.  The group also advocates for public education funding and an end to the “school to prison pipeline.”

Governor O’Malley has proposed to spend $280 million to construct three new detention facilities for youth tried as adults and women.  On Thursday, March 4, the Baltimore Algebra Project, Peer-to-Peer organizations, and several other advocacy and activist groups are organizing a rally to demand that $100 million be diverted youth employment opportunities.  This “March on Youth Jails” will occur from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at Camden Yards.  For more information, visit the official Facebook group (Prison is the 13th Grade) or event page (March on Youth Jails).  

March 3: A Celebration and Call to Action for City Schools

As you all have heard, the Governor has used federal stimulus money to reverse his proposed state funding cuts for Baltimore City Schools. The proposed cuts would have resulted in drastic cuts to schools.
Many Baltimoreans called and wrote the Governor and other elected leaders — and that pressure served notice to our elected officials that there is a growing force of people who support City Schools.
Join us at a Celebration/Call to Action Tuesday, March 3 at 6:30 p.m. to thank elected leaders for reversing the cuts, but more importantly, to continue to build a large, powerful, movement to support Baltimore City Schools. This has already begun with the creation of the Baltimore Education Coalition, started with the efforts of many organizations and people who care about public schools.

Celebration/Call to Action to Support Baltimore City Schools
Tuesday, March 3, 6:30 p.m.
Fort Worthington Elementary St., 2701 E. Oliver St, 21213
(parking available behind school – access on Kenhill Ave)

We have a historic opportunity to build on recent school performance improvements citywide and on Dr. Alonso’s positive changes in accountability and transparency. We can decide to orient the entire city – parents, neighborhoods, churches — around supporting public education.

Wondering how to help? Join us March 3! For more information, contact Greater Homewood Public Schools Advocacy contact Karen DeCamp at 410-261-3505 or kdecamp@strongcitybaltimore.org.