Re­nais­sance awarded grant amid re­cov­ery

Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment to send over $350K to help hire school staff, men­tors

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Erica L. Green

Fed­eral ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials will send more than $350,000 to Bal­ti­more’s Re­nais­sance Academy High School to help stu­dents and staff re­cover from the stab­bing death of a stu­dent in a class­room last year.

The U.S. De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion said the Project School Emer­gency Re­sponse to Vi­o­lence grant will help the West Bal­ti­more school hire ad­di­tional staff — in­clud­ing more men­tors for its highly praised “Seeds of Prom­ise” men­tor­ing pro­gram, which sup­ports its ma­jor­ity African-Amer­i­can male stu­dent pop­u­la­tion in one of the city’s most vi­o­lent neigh­bor­hoods.

Re­nais­sance has worked to re-es­tab­lish a safe learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment af­ter a se­ries of vi­o­lent in­ci­dents that trou­bled the school last year.

Ana­nias Jol­ley, 17, was stabbed in a third-floor class­room days be­fore Thanks­giv­ing and died in De­cem­ber. His school­mate Donte Crawford, also 17, was charged with his murder and is in jail await­ing trial.

Jol­ley’s death was one of three the school mourned in as many months.

Re­nais­sance stu­dent Dar­ius Bard­ney, 16, was killed in Jan­uary in what po­lice have de­scribed as an ac­ci­den­tal shoot­ing. Daniel Jack­son, 17, was shot and killed in Fe­bru­ary, shortly af­ter he dropped out of school.

“Such tragic, sense­less acts of vi­o­lence dis­rupt the schools where our stu­dents learn and the com­mu­ni­ties where they live,” Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary John B. King Jr. said of Ana­nias’ death.

In a state­ment an­nounc­ing the grant, King said the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment was “com­mit­ted to help­ing Re­nais­sance Academy’s stu­dents, teach­ers and fam­i­lies re­cover and to re-es­tab­lish safe learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments where all chil­dren can fo­cus on get­ting a great ed­u­ca­tion — free from fear.”

The Project SERV grant is one of two awarded by the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment’s Of­fice of Safe and Healthy Stu­dents to the Bal­ti­more school sys­tem this year.

The of­fice has awarded more than $40 mil­lion to 139 grantees since 2001. Grantees have in­cluded the New­town Pub­lic School Dis­trict in Con­necti­cut fol­low­ing the mass shoot­ing at Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School.

Bal­ti­more was awarded $293,000 in Jan­uary to help city schools re­cover af­ter the Fred­die Gray un­rest. That grant was split among the five West Bal­ti­more schools, in­clud­ing Re­nais­sance, that of­fi­cials said were af­fected most neg­a­tively by the un­rest.

The school sys­tem, in part­ner­ship with the Bal­ti­more City Health De­part­ment, is also in the run­ning for more than $2.3 mil­lion from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment for men­tal health ser­vices for 13 schools in West Bal­ti­more.

New schools CEO Sonja San­telises, who has iden­ti­fied boost­ing men­tal health ser­vices and trauma train­ing in schools as a pri­or­ity of her ad­min­is­tra­tion, called the grant “in­valu­able” in help­ing Re­nais­sance and its part­ners sup­port the school in the new school year.

“To suc­ceed aca­dem­i­cally, stu­dents need to know not only that schools are safe and se­cure but that there are peo­ple and re­sources at their schools to sup­port them in very dif­fi­cult times,” San­telises said. “This is true for all stu­dents, but at Re­nais­sance Academy those needs are par­tic­u­larly acute.”

Nikkia Rowe, prin­ci­pal at Re­nais­sance Academy, said she was grate­ful for the con­tin­u­ous sup­port from city school ad­min­is­tra­tors and from com­mu­nity part­ner­ships like the Prom­ise Heights ini­tia­tive at the Univer­sity of Mary­land School of So­cial Work.

“As we all know, heal­ing is a process, and the ad­di­tional funding will as­sist us in the heal­ing,” Rowe said.

The Seeds of Prom­ise pro­gram em­ploys four men­tors for about 80 youth. The grant will fund two more men­tors.

Corey Wither­spoon, a Seeds of Prom­ise men­tor, said the ad­di­tional men­tors will help as the school wel­comes a new batch of stu­dents this year.

“The men­tor­ing is 24-7,” Wither­spoon said. “I’m do­ing home­work just man­ag­ing the sched­ules of the kids … to keep up with them.”

Wither­spoon, who at­tempted to stop Ana­nias from bleed­ing out in Re­nais­sance’s hall­way last year, said his pres­ence is still ev­ery­where — in the con­ver­sa­tions of stu­dents who remember him and on the blue-and-white shirts printed last school year that read “Grad­u­ate for Jol­ley.”

“We’re all still aware of Jol­ley. But now it’s like, what are we go­ing to do now?” Wither­spoon said. “We’ve got to change the out­comes, and what bet­ter way than in­vest­ing. With this grant, there are so many pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

The grant will also fund train­ing for staff with a fo­cus on trauma. The school will also hire a door mon­i­tor and a staff mem­ber re­spon­si­ble for home vis­its to stu­dents who are chron­i­cally ab­sent be­cause they are too afraid or an­gry to come to school.

A sign near a field of sun­flow­ers on Jar­rettsville Pike near Hess Road is widely ig­nored by mo­torists who want to get a good view of the crop.

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