Got Middle Schoolers? Navigating High School Choice in Baltimore

With The New Century School on the verge of graduating its first class of 8th-graders, what comes next—that is, high school—looms large. Fortunately, that cohort is squared away thanks in large part to the efforts of Curriculum Coordinator cum High School Liaison Adriana DuPrau.

How to raise healthy, happy older children in downtown Baltimore is foremost on the minds of many city parents, however, if the turnout at Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance (DBFA)’s recent “Meet the Big Kids” event is any indication. On Wednesday, May 15th, DBFA hosted their annual presentation in a new format. For 2019, the event was held at Mother’s FedHill Grille, and DBFA provided food for parents and kids as they socialized prior to the joint presentation by the Fund for Educational Excellence (FFEE) and Heather Stone, Assistant Principal at Afya Public Charter School on navigating school choice for middle and high school. Staff from Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) was also on hand to answer questions during the presentation. While the presentation was happening, the “Big Kids” helped out by interacting with the younger students, answering their questions and being their heroes. Families were encouraged to stick around afterward to socialize and ask questions of the older students. Said Tony Stephens, DBFA’s Executive Director, “[Younger children] will have the chance to meet other children who have gone ahead of them, while parents will also learn what important steps they can take toward preparing for and navigating the selection process to middle and high school.”

So, if you weren’t in attendance but are curious (or even stressed) about how high school choice happens in Baltimore, not to mention how downtown parents manage “without yards, two-car garages, and shopping malls,” read on—Immersed breaks it all down! (Note that the focus will be on public high school options.)

What School Choice Means

To start with, Baltimore is unique in “matching” students to schools much like is done for medical students looking for a residency hospital. There are few neighborhood-zoned schools remaining. All 8th-graders pick five schools and rank them according to preference, then make their choice among those that awarded acceptance based on application, portfolio, or audition. It’s a bit complicated, but it means that your child goes to school where he or she wants to, which must make a dramatic difference in the overall high school experience. A few schools do offer a lottery-based acceptance.

high-school-choice

The high school process is not easy, according to parents and kids alike, but it’s well worth it—moreover you’re amply prepared for it in middle school; every school has a liaison dedicated to helping families through the process of applying to high schools.  Public choices are comparatively slim, but those we do have are actually pretty great. Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Baltimore City College, Baltimore School for the Arts, and Western High School, for example, are current or past Blue Ribbon schools nearly universally considered outstanding.

You’re probably asking yourself the logical next question: If my student has to apply and is competing for a limited number of spots at a given school, what are our chances of success? According to FFEE, for the last 5 years, students have been placed in their first- or second-choice school 70%–76% of the time. Encouraging, yes, but just how is that possible? As one dad explained it, the available spots in the top schools are enough to ensure that kids in the upper quartiles of eligibility will land one. “The fact that you’re here, concerned about your child’s education,” he continued, “says your child stands a pretty good chance.” Don’t worry—we will go over just what goes into eligibility.

Getting Ready: Managing the Timeline

Managing the preparation timeline is important, because key dates cannot be missed. BCPS advises starting to plan for high school in 7th grade, so here’s what to keep on your radar. No later than October of your child’s 8th-grade year, begin researching schools and attending open houses and shadow days. You probably know by now who your high school liaison is at your child’s middle school, but find out if not. As mentioned, that ministering angel at TNCS is Mrs. DuPrau. Make an appointment with the liaison to discuss options and get help with registering for open houses and shadow days.

The difference? Open houses provide an opportunity to see the school and meet staff, often when school is not in session. Shadow days, on the other hand, allow students to experience the school first hand by going through a typical school day along with a currently enrolled student.

Making Choices

Given your child’s individual talents and strengths will help you find the right school. Use DBFA’s handout to start evaluating and narrowing choices. Choosing a school is based on academic as well as many nonacademic aspects, and you and your child will make the choice based on what’s right for you and your circumstances. The number one piece of advise here is: Make sure your #1 choice is truly your #1 choice, and so on down through the ranks.

high-school-choice

Back to that timeline, in November, your child will get his or her first-quarter report card. This is the final grading period that will become part of your child’s composite score. Composite score??? Take a deep breath; it’s actually not as terrifying as it sounds.

Composite Scores

Most Baltimore public high schools will be looking at the composite score to determine a student’s eligibility. This is made up of final report card grades from each quarter of 7th grade; first-quarter grades from 8th grade, as mentioned above; and standardized test score. This could be the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test and the iReady and, possibly (depending on your target schools), the Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE).

Note that for TNCS students, Mrs. DuPrau has an important piece of news: “TNCS will begin using the iReady curriculum in both reading and math next school year, 2019–2020. This will help support our existing curriculum and help better prepare students to take the iReady exam in the fall that will be a part of their composite score,” she said. Also new for the 2019–2020 school year, it will be mandatory for all TNCS middle school students to take the requisite standardized tests. “This will help with practicing taking the test,” explained Mrs. DuPrau, “and some schools actually look at your test scores from 7th and 8th grade.” Current TNCS 8th-graders agree that this practice will be very helpful for the future middle schoolers facing this transition to high school. They also urge their successors to start prepping early!

Attendance in 8th grade may also be factored in but isn’t always. In addition, each school weights aspects of the score differently, depending on the thrust of the school (i.e., science or art driven). Important points to bear in mind about composite scores include:

  • Composite scores consist of final course grades from 7th grade, standardized test percentile, 1st-quarter grades in 8th grade, 8th grade attendance (sometimes).
  • There are a total of schools seven that require a composite score: Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Baltimore City College, Carver Vocational-Techmical High School, Edmondson Westside High School, Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, and Western High School.
  • Minimum composite scores range from 475 to 610. In 2018, however, Poly’s lowest-scoring admission was 701.4; City’s was 672.6.
  • The minimum composite score does not guarantee admission. Eligible students are admitted by highest rank.

Citywide Choice Application

A “citywide” school does not have an attendance zone and serves students all over the city. You may choose to apply to schools in or near your neighborhood, or, you may apply farther afield, in which case, free transportation services may be available. This is where the “choice” in citywide choice becomes apparent because you are not limited by city region to what schools are available to your child.

But then again, you do have to apply. This application is where you rank your five choices, again, in order of importance. It can be submitted to the school by the liaison, completed online, or mailed to the Office of Enrollment Choice and Transfers.

Note that some schools do not require a composite score, and admission is determined by lottery if the number of applicants exceeds the number of available spots.

The takeaway message here is to get that application in and verify that it made it on time. What happens if you don’t? Your student will still be able to attend high school, don’t worry, but will face a Round 2 application period. During Round 2, even fewer optimal spots will be available, having already been snatched up in Round 1.

Types of Programs

Baltimore has choices. BCPS advises, “Think about who you are, what interests you, and what motivates you to go to school in the morning.”

Ingenuity Project

Then there’s Poly’s Ingenuity Project, a free, STEM-based, highly accelerated and challenging curriculum. Applying for this program means you’ll be jumping through a few extra hoops: there is an additional application usually due in December of the 8th-grade year, applicants must rank Poly as their #1 choice on the Citywide Choice Schools Application, and they must take the Ingenuity Ability Test in January of their 8th-grade year.

Work-Readiness Programs

Baltimore is home to many Career & Technology Education (CTE) schools as well as graduating high school with an Associates degree in a P-TECH school, both of which ready graduates for the workforce and easing the transition to it.

Charter Schools

Charter schools are yet another option, and these are independently operated. They may, therefore, have different approaches to instruction. Visit each school’s website for details on application requirements. They may hold a lottery if applications exceed spots, but know that neighborhood children will get priority placement.

Key Dates Wrap-Up

  • 7th-Grade school year: Keep those grades up and absences down!
  • October of 8th-grade year: Attend Open Houses and Shadow Days to start your selection process.
  • Fall of 8th-grade year: Take applicable standardized tests.
  • Early December of 8th-grade year: Consider attending the annual Choice Fair at the Baltimore Convention Center.
  • Mid-December of 8th-grade year: Ingenuity Project application is due (if applicable).
  • Early-Mid January of 8th-grade year: Take the Ingenuity Ability Test (if applicable).
  • Late-Mid January of 8th-grade year: School Choice Application is due.
  • Late January of 8th-grade year: Audition for Baltimore School for the Arts (if applicable).
  • Early March of 8th-grade year: Look for a letter from BCPS telling you what high schools you were placed in.
  • Late April of 8th-grade year: Submit your Statement to Decline High School Choice Placement of the schools you opt out of (probably because you got your #1 choice!).

Reeling from all of this info? DBFA plans to host the Meet the Big Kids program again in the fall. Also, BCPS has created a handy guide to school choice that you can download here. Ultimately, said presenter Ms. Stone, “if you have a student in 4th grade or younger, focus on getting good the best education possible. In 5th grade on, really focus on grades and readiness for standardized assessment. After you get through 7th grade, it’s time to start homing in on your high school choice. If you chunk it up that way, it becomes a little bit more manageable.”

March STEAM Madness: Jumping ahead to the “M”!

True to form, March 2017 blew in like a lion and out like a lamb . . . but this year, a numbers-minded marsupial bounced into the middle—at The New Century School, anyway!

Math Kangaroo Comes to Baltimore

For the first time in Baltimore, TNCS hosted Math Kangaroo, an International Competition for 1st- through 12-grade students whose mission is to:

  • Encourage students to master their mathematical knowledge.
  • Give them confidence in their ability for comprehending mathematics.
  • Help them understand how mathematics applies in nature’s laws and human activities.
  • Develop their ability to derive pleasure and satisfaction through intellectual life.
  • Show that mathematical education is significant in every part of the world.

imgres“Bringing an international math competition to Baltimore has been a dream of mine for a long time,” said TNCS Co-Founder/Co-Executive Director and former math teacher Jennifer Lawner.

A challenge for Baltimore as more people are choosing to stay and raise their families here is offering appropriate activities for them that are currently available in the county. Organizations like the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance and Coppermine Fieldhouse have been critical in trying to recruit activities for Baltimore so that we can have our children participate in engaging pursuits and sports leagues, and I think TNCS also helps with extracurricular activities. For me, math competitions are also in the realm of things that Baltimore needs to function as a livable place for families.

Why Math Kangaroo

TNCS hopes to offer the competition annually henceforth, and participation will be open to students from schools city-wide. This first event was somewhat of a trial run, though, before actively recruiting other schools. Ms. Lawner said she wanted to first make sure that the event “lifted students up rather than discouraging them. What we’re trying to do is get children interested in math at early ages so that they might consider intensive study or careers in math-related fields in the future.” Math Kangaroo had the benefit of opening participation in 1st grade, whereas many other math competitions, such as Math Olympiads, start at 4th grade. “They have to be old enough to be able to read the problems and instructions,” explained Ms. Lawner, “but the first and second level exams also offer a lot of visual problems for younger students.”

 

The biggest appeal of Math Kangaroo, however, is the approach to doing math. For example, the problems start easy and get progressively harder so that there will always be enough problems for the individual student to be able to work out and feel successful enough to keep going. “Encountering problems they have never been exposed to before is a really good experience for students,” added Ms. Lawner, “because they have mastered at least enough skills to try, and that’s our primary goal for them—to be motivated to try but be okay with possibly not being able to get it the first time.” TNCS’s regular math curriculum consists of skill-building and problem-solving, but Math Kangaroo provided a fresh kind of problem for students to tackle. Said Ms. Lawner:

The problems are formulated in such a way that, for example, multiplication might be necessary for the solution, but it won’t be immediately obvious that multiplication is required. The student has to fundamentally understand what multiplication accomplishes in order to use it in the context of the problem. It’s not just working through 50 arithmetic problems in a fixed amount of time, as people might imagine. These problems might involve multiple steps, each requiring a mathematical tool that the students have been learning to use, which gets them figuring out how these skills fit into solving the problem. It’s not a repetitive thing; with actual problem-solving, you have to use logic in addition to traditional math skills. The strength of these problems is that they must be understood very deeply to be solved, and that’s really what is being tested.

Math Kangaroo 2015 Sample Questions

In the weeks leading up to the March 16th competition, TNCS teachers worked with students to give them practice breaking down these kinds of problems into discrete steps and organizing their work. Reading the problem carefully is key in problems such as what are listed below. Go on, give it a shot! (Answers are given at the end of the post in case you get stumped.)

Level 1/2

1. Look closely at these four pictures.

image01
Which figure is missing from one of the pictures?

image02

Level 3/4

2. Peter has ten balls, numbered from 0 to 9. He gave four of the balls to George and three to Ann. Then each of the three friends multiplied the numbers on their balls. As the result, Peter got 0, George got 72, and Ann got 90. What is the sum of the numbers on the balls that Peter kept for himself?

image010

A) 11               B) 12               C) 13               D) 14              E) 15

Level 5/6

3. Four points lie on a line. The distances between them are, in increasing order: 2, 3, k, 11, 12, 14. What is the value of k?

A) 5                 B) 6                 C) 7                 D) 8                 E) 9

Level 7/8

4. In a group of kangaroos, the two lightest kangaroos weigh 25% of the total weight of the group. The three heaviest kangaroos weigh 60% of the total weight. How many kangaroos are in the group?

A) 6                 B) 7                 C) 8                 D) 15               E) 20

Level 9/10

5. The figure shows seven regions formed by three intersecting circles. A number is written in each region. It is known that the number in any region is equal to the sum of the numbers in all neighboring regions. (We call two regions neighboring if their boundaries have more than one common point.) Two of the numbers are known (see the figure). Which number is written in the central region?

image018

A) 0                 B) – 3               C) 3                 D) – 6               E) 6

Level 11/12

6. When reading the following statements from the left to the right, what is the first statement that is true?

A) C) is true.    B) A) is true.    C) E) is false.   D) B) is false. E) 1 + 1 = 2

Competition Outcomes

Parents may have been skeptical about the idea of their kids sitting down to take what, in effect, was a 90-minute math exam, complete with answer bubbles carefully filled in with no. 2 pencils, especially because this is something they had not been asked to do thus far at TNCS. But, perhaps surprisingly, the students not only handled it without issue, but actually enjoyed it, more importantly, which was the primary goal. It’s easy to speculate on why—it’s a competition—a game—not an anxiety-inducing test, and kids brought lots of positivity to the experience. The challenge is itself motivating, in the same way sports can be for the physical body. Participation, moreover, is optional.
They also received a T-shirt, a pencil, a tattoo, and a certificate of participation for joining in, so those inducements may be responsible for some of the joie de math.  Another reason, explained Ms. Lawner, “is that children all over the world were participating, so our students felt very special to be a part of this. Mathematics is done all over the world, and Math Kangaroo wants to make students aware of that connection and prepare them for that global challenge.”
One thing that is important to bear in mind about this kind of endeavor is that the score, seemingly paradoxically, is largely beside the point. Because the exam is intended to challenge, many students might not score even above 50%, but, said Ms. Lawner, “the value was that students had the opportunity to step out of the curriculum and face new problems, and they got excited about math. Parents and teachers also got excited and participated. I think the experience elevated the students’ interest in mathematics and awareness of mathematics as an international activity—great benefits, to be sure.”
The primary goals of fun and engagement were achieved, if how excited students were both before and after the event are any indication. Some parents even report being given math tests of their children’s devising. Nevertheless, it might seem counterintuitive for a school that does not adopt standardized tests to go in for this kind of math exam. “The baggage that goes along with the word ‘test’ is a lot,” said Ms. Lawner, “when what we’re really trying to do is give students a period of challenge. It’s not so much a test on material that they’ve learned and are supposed to regurgitate as an experience with challenging problems and what they can do with them.” Another kind of “score,” in other words. “How hard they worked was so impressive,” said Ms. Lawner who was on hand to help out during exam administration. “They used all their time and were so determined to do this thing.”
IMG_1440 1
Even so, students who do score well will be rewarded with prizes. There are medals for the top three students in the country, and ribbons for the top three in the state. Other prizes include books, games, gift cards, and toys. Students who demonstrate high achievement over multiple years are eligible for college grants.

The Future of Math Kangaroo at TNCS

Previous Maryland winners seem to cluster in Montgomery county—“It’s time for Baltimore to challenge that!” said Ms. Lawner. With the inaugural event being so well-received by TNCS students, next year, the hope is to offer two public sessions for non-TNCS students in addition to the in-school exam.
There’s so much talent in Baltimore, in our children, and I would just love for them to be encouraged to come show their stuff. Sometimes all children need is to be asked to participate. It might start somebody down a path that could lead to his or her life’s passion. I think it’s really important to encourage math, especially as students get older and the math gets harder. Our goal here is for students to get a really solid foundation in math so that later they’re able to make choices and that multiple future paths are open to them. A career in engineering, for example, requires a certain level of math skill. So, we always want to promote the possibility that you can do it—you can stare at a problem long enough, given the right tools, to find a creative solution.
Answers to Practice Questions
1. D) image005 2. E) 15 3. E) 9 4. A) 6 5. A) 0 6. D) B) is false.

Top 27 Family-Friendly Winter Break Activities in Baltimore!

That’s right, folks—this is Your Guide to Surviving Winter Break with the Kiddos, brought to you by Immersed and The New Century School (with a lot of help from our neighbors and friends!).

The following list runs chronologically, not hierarchically, and activities included met the one criterion of occurring between December 16, 2016 and January 3, 2017 (or later), a period that roughly corresponds to Winter Break for Baltimore City Schools. The list was specially curated to entertain kids of all ages and cultures.

#1. Edgar Allen Poe House & Museum Self-Guided Tourzzdata-3770_580x360

  • Date(s)/Times: December 17–December 19, 11:00 am–3:45 pm
  • Description: Come tour 203 N. Amity, the tiny house where Edgar Allan Poe launched his renowned career as the denizen of darkness. As well, enjoy the Baltimore Camera Club’s special springtime 2016 exhibit:“ Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe,” featuring diverse works inspired by Poe, his poetry, literature, and legacy. Don’t miss this chance to enjoy this diverse selection while visiting the Poe House & Museum, exploring this tiny home, and the exhibit in the room where we presume Poe once slept and dreamed.

#2. Posadas: Tradiciones Navidenas Latinoamericanas at the Creative Allianceuntitled-1_0

  • Date(s)/Times: December 17–December 19, 6:00 pm–10:00 pm
  • Description: Join a singing procession with Mary, Joseph, and the Mariachi Rey Azteca band. Dinner, DJ Eddie Chabot, and a piñata breaking party to follow! People of all beliefs are welcome. Please bring a dish, beverages, or dessert to share in the spirit of the tradition. To volunteer and/or to participate, please register info@creativealliance.org.

#3. German Holiday Village in Baltimorezzdata-1973_580x386

  • Date(s)/Times: December 17–December 24; Sunday–Thursday, 11:00 am–7:00 pm and Friday–Saturday, 11:00 am–8:00 pm
  • Description: West Shore Park at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor will once again transform into a European Wonderland for the annual Holiday Village. A large variety of weekday and weekend events designed to please young and old await to be explored! Over 50 international vendors located both inside a huge heated festival tent and outdoors in traditional wooden booths will offer their unique giftware! Wander the market with the smell of sweet waffles, gingerbread, and Gluhwine (mulled wine) wafting through the air or enjoy a sizzling Bratwurst right from the grill! New for 2016—join Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance for Family Friday on December 23 from 3:00 pm–6:00 pm for lots of activities for the kiddos including photos with Santa, face painting, life-sized games, kids’ rides, and craft sessions!

#4. Northern Exposure, Season 1, at the Jewish Museum of Marylandzzdata-6886_580x844

  • Date(s)/Times: December 25; 12:00 pm–5:00 pm
  • Description: Join JMM for a relaxing afternoon to visit Cicely, Alaska. Inspired by Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America, we will be screening episodes from Season One of Northern Exposure. This cult TV show follows the life of recently graduated New York City physician, Dr. Joel Fleischman, who is sent to practice in Alaska to fulfill his obligation after Alaska paid for his medical education. Throughout the screening, popcorn and hot chocolate will be served.

#5. Baltimore Chanukah Festivalzzdata-6901_580x387

  • Date(s)/Times: December 25–December 27; starting at 2:00 pm (click above link for times of specific activities)
  • Description: Celebrate the start of Chanukah with the lighting of Maryland’s largest menorah, along with a parade, live music, kid’s activities, fireworks, Grand Menorah Lighting of the Esther Ann Menorah, kosher food truck, and live music! Admission is free and open to the public.

#6. Miracle on 34th Streetzzdata-6634_580x435

  • Date(s)/Times: December 17–December 31; 5:15 pm–11:00 pm
  • Description: One block in Hampden bursts with light each holiday season as residents illuminate their row homes and mount quirky ornaments, from a giant snow globe to a Christmas tree made of hubcaps. It’s a holiday tradition like no other.

#7. Kwanzaa Family Fun Dayszzdata-6014_580x360

  • Date(s)/Times: December 30; 12:00 pm–5:00 pm (click the above link for times of specific activities)
  • Description: Bring the family to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum to celebrate the holiday’s 50th anniversary and the Kwanzaa principle Nia (“Purpose”). Enjoy storytelling, African dancing, and drumming by Sankofa Dance Theater. Sallah Jenkins leads holiday craft-making. Travel with teaching artist Culture Queen through Culture Kingdom Kids’ Kwanzaaland to explore the seven Kwanzaa principles at workshop stations. Dr. Jeffrey Menzise of Morgan State University gives the keynote speech about the meaning of Nia.

#8. New Year’s Eve Midnight Noonmn_234x172-240x176

  • Date(s)/Times: December 31; 9:00 am–2:00 pm
  • Description: Does the ball drop after your bedtime? Not this year! Ring in the New Year at the Maryland Science Center! Join us for our 9th annual New Year’s Eve celebration, Midnight Noon, where children can enjoy the ball drop before bed time. There will be fun New Year’s festivities throughout the day, including a live concert by popular kids band Milkshake. Their Grammy-nominated tunes will keep you dancing throughout the day. Crafts will be available while supplies last. Guests can look forward to constructing noise makers and making party favors. The entire Science Center will be open and ready for you to explore.

#9. Noontime New Year Snow Ball at Port Discoveryntny-snow-ball

  • Date(s)/Times: December 31; 10:00 am–5:00 pm
  • Description: Don’t miss one of Baltimore’s best family-friendly New Year’s celebrations. Port Discovery’s Noontime New Year Snow Ball Celebration features Baltimore’s original kid-friendly countdown and balloon drop, Eric Energy’s famous energy show, dance parties, tons of art projects, a juice and cookie toast, and more.

#10. 4th Annual Kiddie Scoop Ball Droptncs-top-27-winter-break-activities-baltimore

  • Date(s)/Times: December 31; 8:00 pm
  • Description: It’s NYE and you want to spend it with your entire family, but midnight is so far away. From the giant scoop in front of The Charmery is the Kiddie Scoop Ball Drop, complete with a countdown featuring the milk jug ball and a complimentary sparkling cider toast. Let’s ring in the New Year . . . a little early.

#11. Holly Jolly Trolley Tourzzdata-6881_580x363

  • Date(s)/Times: December 17-January 1, Thursday-Sunday from 6:00 pm–8:00 pm and 8:30 pm–10:30 pm
  • Description: Young and old will delight in sharing a magical evening filled with holiday music, festive light displays, and beautiful neighborhood decorations, all aboard an old fashioned trolley! The 2-hour tour, conducted by an expert guide, will begin at Royal Sonesta Harbor Court in downtown Baltimore and will then proceed to take guests through the adorned neighborhoods of Harbor East, Fells Point, and Canton where they will learn a little local history and observe the charming sights and sounds of the holidays. Next, the Trolley will head north to Hampden to see and enjoy the block-long spectacular 34th Street Annual Christmas Festival of Lights, complete with colorful lights, outdoor train gardens, original artwork from local artists, and sparkling displays. On the way back to the Inner Harbor, guests will ride pass the George Washington Monument in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood where it has been beautifully decorated for the season.

#12. The 3rd Annual Merry Little Festival: A Spectacular Sight, For a Worthy Causezzdata-6855_715x360

  • Date(s)/Times: December 17-January 1
  • Description: This dazzling and fun-filled festival will transform the Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore’s lobby into a winter wonderland for the holidays. Guests and locals alike will be welcomed into the hotel by glistening display of trees, each with its own unique theme. Snap a photo in front of a tree and share by using #FSFestive.

#13. B&O’s Magical Holiday Expresstncs-top-27-activities-baltimore-winter-break

  • Date(s)/Times: December 17–December 31 & January 2; Monday-Saturday, 10am-4pm; Sunday, 11am-4pm (Museum closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day & New Year’s Day)
  • Description: All aboard the B&O’s Magical Holiday Express, a holiday spectacular celebration in the B&O Roundhouse devoted to trains of all sizes and shapes, holiday festivities, and a winter wonderland of family fun and activities. There is something to see and do every day at this annual holiday event, with special guests, train layouts, crafts, and more each week!

#14. Visit the Enoch Pratt Free Library with extended holiday hourstncs-top-27-winter-break-activities-baltimore

  • Date(s)/Times: December 17–January 2; please click the above link for hours each day
  • Description: So many happenings! Click the above link for details.

#15. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 4Dzzdata-6599_580x375

  • Date(s)/Times: December 17–January 2; aquarium hours are Monday–Thursday, 10:00 am–4:00 pm; Friday, 10:00 am–8:00 pm; Saturday–Sunday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm (4D Immersion film times vary; click the above link for details)
  • Description: The National Aquarium presents a magical twist on a holiday classic this winter, as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 4-D” debuts at the National Aquarium’s 4-D Immersion Theater. Guests can journey with Rudolph as he sets off on a series of funny and endearing adventures after being ousted from Christmas-town because of his bright and shining nose—meeting new friends Hermey the Elf and Yukon Cornelius on the way. The Aquarium’s 4-D Immersion Theater brings Rudolph and friends to life, allowing visitors to get close to the sights, smells and sounds of the action. The theater is equipped with 4-D capabilities, combining the excitement of a 3-D film with special sensory effects.

#16. Train Garden in Highlandtowndscn0811

  • Date(s)/Times: December 17–January 3 (closed December 25);  11:00 am–5:00 pm
  • Description: See a model train garden built by volunteers and housed in Engine House #41 at 520 S. Conkling Street in Baltimore City. Open to the public and it is free. It is sponsored by CSX, The Baltimore City Fire Department and the Southeast Community Development Corporation.

#17. Visit the Zoo with Beary Cool Discount Admissionbearycoolprices

  • Date(s)/Times: December 17–February 28; Monday–Sunday, 10:00 am–4:00 pm (December); Friday–Monday, 10:00 am–4:00 pm (January–February)
  • Description: Enjoy $10 discounted admission all winter long for all ages. Take advantage of this special price freeze and experience the Zoo offseason from now through February 28th for less. See Arctic animals, penguins, chimpanzees, flamingos, giraffe, lions and more. Some animals, however, are not on exhibit for the winter season.

#18. Twelve Days of Science12days_website_234x172

  • Date(s)/Times: December 22–January 2; Tuesday-Friday, 10:00 am-5:00 pm; Saturday, 10:00 am-6:00 pm; Sunday, 11:00 am-5:00 pm
  • Description: 12 Days of Science features a different theme every day. Drop-in workshops, live demonstrations, and hands-on building will be happening throughout the Science Center while at-home activities take over our website and social media.

#19. A Feast for the Senses: Art and Experience in Medieval Europetncs-top-27-winter-break-activities-baltimore

  • Date(s)/Times: December 17–January 8; Wednesday–Sunday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm, Thursdays 10:00 am–9:00 pm (click above link for holiday closings)
  • Description: The art of medieval Europe—luminous stained glass windows, church bells with their mesmerizing sounds, and tapestries depicting fragrant gardens—stirred the senses. This international loan exhibition brings together more than 100 paintings, tapestries, metalwork, manuscripts, and prints from museums in the United States and abroad, including masterpieces from the Walters’ collection. Special children’s programs are also available—visit the link above.

#20. Kimono & Obi: Romantic Echoes From Japan’s Golden Agetncs-top-27-winter-break-activities-baltimore

  • Date(s)/Times: December 17–January 16; Wednesday–Friday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm; Saturday–Sunday, 11:00 am–6:00 pm (click the above link for special extended holiday hours and closings)
  • Description: The BMA presents an exquisite selection of late 19th- and mid-20th century kimonos and obis that have never been shown before. Obi are wide sashes wrapped around the kimono wearer’s waist and tied in an ornate knot at the back. These stunning garments were made after the lifting of sumptuary laws during Japan’s Edo period (1603–1867) when commoners were forbidden to wear showy clothing with colors like red or purple. The Meiji Era (1868–1912) coincided with increased prosperity as Japan entered the industrial age and this newfound wealth was often expressed in lavish garments. Many of these kimonos displayed decorative motifs with symbols of the Imperial Court, especially those referring to the Heian Era (794–1185), considered Japan’s Golden Age when the court was in its most powerful, refined, and romantic period.

#21. Outdoor Ice Skatingzzdata-6635_580x387

  • Date(s)/Times: December 17–January 16; Monday–Thursday, 12:00 pm–8:00 pm; Friday, 12:00 pm–11:00 pm; Saturday, 10:00 am–11:00 pm; Sunday, 10:00 am–8:00 pm (click the above link for special extended holiday hours and closings)
  • Description: Break the ice at the PANDORA Ice Rink at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, complete with a skate shack, rentals, concessions, and entertainment as well as special events like SkateFest, a learn-to-skate program, and more.

#22. Black Box: John Waters’ Kiddie Flamingoeszzdata-6052_638x360

  • Date(s)/Times: December 17–January 22; runs on continuous loop during museum hours (Wednesday–Friday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm; Saturday–Sunday, 11:00 am–6:00 pm; lick the above link for special extended holiday hours and closings)
  • Description: For this 2014 video, John Waters recast his 1972 cult film Pink Flamingos—considered one of the most notorious films ever made—with children reading a cleverly modified G-rated script. The 74-minute video shown on a continuous loop in the Black Box gallery features adorable kids wearing wigs and suggestions of the original costumes as they evoke the legendary performances of Divine, Mink Stole, Edith Massey, and others. Filmed in one day mostly with friends’ children, Waters has said the new version is in some ways more perverse than the original.

#23. Matisse/Diebenkorn at the BMAzzdata-6166_580x776

  • Date(s)/Times: December 17–January 29; Wednesday–Friday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm; Saturday–Sunday, 11:00 am–6:00 pm (click the above link for special extended holiday hours and closings)
  • Description: More than 90 paintings and drawings by Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) show the French modern master’s enduring influence on one of the greatest post-war American painters. Diebenkorn’s long engagement with Matisse’s work is among the most productive instances of one painter looking at another’s paintings in the history of 20th-century art. This landmark exhibition brings together a stunning array of works loaned from museums and private collections throughout the U.S. and Europe to follow the trajectory of Diebenkorn’s long and successful career with some of the powerful works by Matisse that the younger artist would have seen.
  • Date(s)/Times: December 17–March 20; Open Skate hours are Tuesday, 12:00 pm-2:00 pm; Friday, 7:00 pm-9:00 pm; Saturday, 3:00 pm-5:00 pm and 7:00 pm-9:00 pm; Sunday, 3:00 pm-5:00 pm (click the above link for skating lesson times)
  • Description: The Mimi DiPietro Family Skating Center features public sessions, ice hockey, broomball, ice skating sessions and sled hockey from October until March. Located at Linwood Avenue and Pratt Street, the rink hosts many of Baltimore’s youth and amateur hockey teams, as well as seasonal special events. The center is also home to the Baltimore Blizzard women’s hockey. The rink is full-sized measuring 200-by-85 feet and is equipped with a warm-up room, fireplace, concession stand and skate shop, which makes this facility the perfect venue for private parties and group rentals.

#25. What & Why: Collecting at the Maryland Historical Societytncs-top-27-winter-break-activities-baltimore

  • Date(s)/Times: December 17–June 20; Wednesday–Saturday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm; Sunday, 12:00 pm–5:00 pm (click the above link for holiday closings)
  • Description: This exhibit contains more than 50 items spanning four centuries of donations to the Maryland Historical Society, including two of Eubie Blake’s practice pianos, period clothing, portraits, silver, a wool tapestry of George Washington, the sign from Club Hippo and a video installation of images from the Preserve the Baltimore Uprising project.

#26. YUMMM! The History, Fantasy, and Future of Foodalejandromecanisme-preview

  • Date(s)/Times: December 17-September 3; Tuesday–Sunday, 10:00 am–6:00 pm
  • Description: Inside Yummm! 34 visionary artists join forces with food scientists, farmers, nutritionists, environmental activists, psychologists, poets, and humorists to publicly explore humankind’s complex, multi-layered relationship with food. AVAM’s Yummm! exhibition aims to inspire a greater public awareness of the revolutionary creativity needed to envision how a future planet of 9.5 billion earthlings will safely eat, cultivate, distribute, share, and even package food in radically more healthful, less wasteful, and equitable ways. With Yummm! AVAM hopes to encourage greater delight and awareness in every bite. The Yummm! exhibition features intuitively made, imagination-rich, food-centric paintings, sculptures, embroideries, installations, and films. Some artworks are even directly created from edibles.
  • Date(s)/Times: Available 365 days a year, sunrise to sunset. Start your event when you want and play at your pace.
  • Description: Turn Baltimore into a giant game board with this fun scavenger hunt adventure. Combine the excitement of the Amazing Race with a 3-hour city tour. Guided from any smart phone, teams make their way among well-known and overlooked gems of the city, solving clues and completing challenges while learning local history. The event starts at the MD Science Center and takes you on an adventure to see the best of the Inner Harbor, down to Little Italy, and other great locations. Compete against others as you use your mind and legs to solve the challenges and get the most points on the leaderboard.

BONUS. . . And, of course, the Winter Break Camp at TNCS is always a huge hit with kids and parents alike!

tncs-top-27-winter-break-activities-baltimore

Enjoy the Break!

TNCS Welcomes DBFA and the “Big Kids”!

tncs-gymnasium-accomodates-dbfa-event

For the second year in a row, TNCS hosted this DBFA event, providing plenty of space in the gymnasium.

On Wednesday, January 28th, The New Century School once again had the pleasure of hosting the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance‘s annual signature event, “Meet the Big Kids (and Their Parents).” This event featured participants from neighborhoods all over the city (e.g., Fell’s Point, Butcher’s Hill, Otterbein, Roland Park, Federal Hill, etc.) to provide the inside scoop on the challenges and benefits of growing up and going to school in our urban environment. TNCS was perfectly situated to host again, with plans to open its very own middle school in the fall of 2016 and welcome some big kids of its own!

happy-hour-light-fare-provided

Hors d’oeuvres from Lebanese Taverna gave attendees time to arrive at a leisurely pace, mingle, and recharge before getting down to business.

The event, designed to accommodate working parents, commenced with a happy hour with hors d’oeuvres from Harbor East’s Lebanese Taverna, while children were given pizza and snacks in an adjoining classroom with childcare by Wondersitters. The audience turnout was high—how to raise healthy, happy older children in downtown Baltimore is a popular topic! DBFA solicited questions for the panel in advance to make sure everyone’s concerns were addressed in a timely fashion. Said mediator Beth Laverick, “[This event] is 150% worth your time, and you will walk away with more information than you thought possible.”

This year, the event took a slightly different tack, focusing more on the kids themselves and letting them express their opinions in their own voices. One especially nice touch was in the variety of perspectives that the panel shared. In addition to middle school–age and high school–age kids, parents were also on hand to provide their viewpoints. Thirdly, the panel included two young working professionals who had grown up in Baltimore, gone to college, launched successful careers, and returned to Baltimore to live and work. The resounding message was that staying in Baltimore to raise a family is not only fine, but it has many advantages—big advantages—that the panel was happy to enumerate.

So how do they do it? How do downtown families manage “without yards, two-car garages, and shopping malls”?

DBFA Executive Director John Bullock introduced the event by explaining DBFA’s mission to keep Baltimore families connected and to provide the resources they need to enhance family life in Charm City. Mediator Mrs. Laverick then took over to introduce the panelists. Each was asked to describe where he or she lives and what it is about Baltimore that has him or her committed to city living. Walkability was a key theme as was the sense of community pervading the neighborhoods. Many consider Baltimore a “small, close-knit community within a big city.” In other words, you get the best of both worlds here. All of your neighbors know you and keep an eye out for your family as in a small town, while first-rate theatre, dining, farmers’ markets, and shopping are abundantly available—big-city perks. “There’s never a dull moment,” said Big Kid Sebastian Towles, which got a laugh from the audience. We could all agree with that statement!

Discussion Topics

Not surprisingly, schools were the biggest issue, just as they were last year. In some ways, this issue is fast becoming a non-issue. Almost soon as the Big Kids opened their mouths, audience members’ concerns about Baltimore City high schools were quelled. The panelists were smart, witty, eloquent, and extremely self-possessed. They were perfectly at ease speaking from the stage to a large audience, all of which says a lot about the education (a mix of public and private schools) they are receiving. “Do you have concerns that the education your child is getting is not on a par with national standards? parents were asked. “Not even a little bit,” said one, which was echoed unanimously. If anything, it’s the opposite. Fun fact: students graduating from Baltimore City public high schools get free tuition to Johns Hopkins University upon acceptance! (See below for a list of the top-performing Baltimore City high schools. Also note that Baltimore is nationally renowned for its private high schools (e.g., Gilman, Calvert Hall). “Where did you go to school?” when asked of a Baltimore native, does not refer to college, but to high school.

meet-the-big-kids-panel

This year’s panel included the kids, their parents, and a couple of “former kids”!

What about school safety? What about transportation to school? In Baltimore City, no high schools are zoned, so all are by choice. Prospective enrollees apply to their top picks and make the decision based on where they are accepted. This system is really wonderful for matching a Big Kid to the right learning environment (some schools focus on The Arts, others on STEM, for example). It also presents a couple of challenges, such as getting to a school that isn’t located in the immediate vicinity. Are parents forced to spend hours each morning chauffering their kids to school and making all manner of sacrifices for this inconvenience? Panelists laughed off the very idea. Part of urban living is developing the competence and independence to navigate the city. Most of the school-aged panelists take the MTA busses and are happy to do so. Carpools can also be arranged in certain instances, but to hear the kids themselves, availing themselves of the public transportation at hand clearly makes the most sense. Busses on the school routes are full of students, and it’s easy to develop “bus buddies” should a helping hand or just some companionship ever be needed.

As for safety in the school, this was again a moment during which the panelists impressed the audience. It’s true that cell phones and valuable items get stolen in Baltimore (as anywhere, city or no). These kids seemed almost puzzled by the idea that they wouldn’t use common sense en route to school or anywhere else. Don’t display valuable items; travel in groups. Duh ;)! As for larger safety issues such as bodily harm or worse, look at the statistics, said one of the grown-up “kids.” Violence in schools not only happens everywhere, but actually seems to be more prevalent in non-urban areas. This fact seems difficult to fathom until you consider that with a greater population density comes correspondingly more infrastructure to maintain order, such as police presence (and number of streetlights, pointed out Amuse Toys owner Claudia Towles, winning another audience laugh). The grown-up kids were quick to point out the harrowing experiences they met with after leaving Baltimore for college in small towns. The kids are right: It’s all down to using common sense, and urban parents might be more likely to begin instilling these lessons early, resulting in some pretty savvy young urban dwellers.

big-audience-turnout-TNCS-gymnasium

More than 40 parents turned out to Meet the Big Kids (and Their Parents) to learn about the next phase of parenting and schooling in Baltimore.

From this point, a unifying motif emerged during all topics. City kids are resourceful. They are creative, innovative, and welcoming of a challenge. No yard to play outside in? Text your buddies to meet up at the neighborhood park or initiate a ball game in a very-low-trafficked alley. “Learn your community like the back of your hand,” they advised. Walk around; get to know the city. Parents agreed. Grant independence in increments, said Fell’s Point mom Melanie Hood Wilson. Teach them their boundaries and to be mindful of their surroundings.

As happened throughout the night, what was presented in question form as something to be overcome turned out to be a clear advantage in panelist answers. For example, no backyard (or one made of bricks—another laugh) opens up the city as a playground with a wealth to do and explore. Mrs. Wilson shared an anecdote that when her teenage daughter had just finished a grueling morning of exams and had an afternoon available to do with whatever she chose, she and her friends opted for a visit to the art museum. And, Baltimore’s walkability and abundant public transportation means that our teenagers aren’t driving as much, which parents and grown-up kids say translate into fewer accidents and fewer DUIs compared to teens in the suburbs who tend to have to drive almost everywhere.

Although the view was overall pretty rosy, it isn’t perfect. But Baltimore families and stakeholders are working on establishing more high schools, especially charter schools, to increase the number of excellent options. The DaVinci Academy for the Arts and Sciences (working name) is in development in Southeast Baltimore, for example, with hopes to open in fall 2017. “Baltimore has a way to go,” said Mrs. Wilson, “to develop the same diversity of options for high school that we have for elementary. And that’s only going to happen if families stay in the city and demand it.” Another way you can make your voice heard on the topic of schools in Baltimore is by visiting the Baltimore City Public Schools website, which actively solicits feedback. This organization also conducts annual School Effectiveness Reviews (SERs) that are published on the site for your perusal.

Finally, if you would like a deeper dive into the most frequently asked questions and their answers, please see Immersed‘s write-up of 2014’s event, which dealt with many of the same topics: Meet The Big Kids.

Meet the Big Kids with TNCS!

On Wednesday, April 9th, The New Century School had the honor of hosting the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance‘s annual event, “Meet the Big Kids’ Parents.” This event featured “local parents from neighborhoods all over the city, each with at least one child older than age 8 years, [to provide] the inside scoop on the challenges and benefits of parenting the school-aged child in our urban environment.” TNCS was perfectly situated to host this one, with plans to open its very own middle school in the Fall of 2016.

A synopsis is provided here if you missed the event or just want to revisit some of these important themes.

More than 40 parents turned out to Meet the Big Kids' Parents (and the kids) to learn about the next phase of parenting and schooling in Baltimore.

More than 40 parents turned out to Meet the Big Kids’ Parents (and the kids) to learn about the next phase of parenting and schooling in Baltimore.

The event was very well organized and designed to accommodate working parents. A happy hour with complimentary light fare and wine gave attendees time to arrive at a leisurely pace, mingle, and recharge before getting down to business. The turnout was high—how to raise healthy, happy older children in downtown Baltimore is evidently foremost on the minds of city parents! DBFA solicited questions for the panel in advance to make sure everyone’s concerns were addressed in a timely fashion. So how do they do it? How do downtown parents manage “without yards, two-car garages, and shopping malls”?

To get things started, panelists explained what it is about Baltimore that has them committed to city living. “Has to be the diversity,” said a Federal Hill dad who grew up in a small New England town. The wealth of resources, such as easy-to-access harp lessons, was another advantage he cited. One mother expressed her love of the walkability of her Fell’s Point neighborhood and joked that it’s also the perfect excuse to prolong the process of getting her son a driver’s license. She also appreciates the sense of community pervading her neighborhood. Another Fell’s Point mom echoed loving walkability and that her pre-teen and teenage daughters can travel about independently to pick up groceries and snacks or go browse the local comics shop. She also appreciates the breadth of school choice available in Baltimore that allowed her to pick just the right schools to amplify and enhance her daughters’ particular strengths. A Canton mom expressed that her and her husband always assumed they’d move out of the city once children arrived, but found they preferred to stay and have been thrilled with their decision because of good schooling and the confidence and empowerment that city life has given their sons. A Federal Hill mom likes the small-town-in-a-city feel that is uniquely Baltimore. Neighbors look out for neighbors, and everyone knows each other, which creates a closely knit community as well as a sort of safety net. Another Federal Hill mom also appreciates the familiarity of her neighborhood and its strong sense of community. She knows “the shopkeepers, the restaurant owners, the teachers,” she said and considers giving that up to live elsewhere not worth the price.

Meet the Big Kids’ Parents: Questions for the Panel

Questions were sorted by topic, and each panel member was invited to provide his or her own take on the issue. The panel comprised both parents and their kids, who ranged in age from 10 to 15 years. Their responses have been edited and condensed for (relative) brevity.

Friends

Where do your kids friends live? In your neighborhood or do you have to drive them around town for play dates? 

Friends tend to be within walking distance, fortunately. Although Baltimore middle and high schools do not follow neighborhood zoning, meaning that students at a given school have come from all over the city, neighborhood kids have grown up together and just naturally gravitate to each other. That, and moms say they made “blood pacts” (which drew a lot of laughter and sympathetic head nodding) to make city living work and have stuck together from infant play groups right up through middle school and beyond.

One of the best things about Baltimore is the diversity. That being said, our child has started to ask for play dates with children who come from a much different background and we are not sure if we feel comfortable allowing our child to go to someone’s house that may not have some of the same rules, level of parental supervision, etc. How did you handle this?

This question really isn’t unique to Baltimore or even to cities, for that matter. Parents are going to vet the households of their kids’ potential playmates before sending them over. “Know the parents; know the kids,” said a Fell’s Point mom. It’s that simple. And, if you can’t always achieve a level of familiarity you’re comfortable with, meet for playdates on neutral ground, such as at the park. Backgrounds might be vastly different, but diligent parents aren’t unique to one type of family or another, said another mom. You can kind of sense it. The resident dad said the distrust is mutual. Crossing boundaries is hard, he said, but Baltimore and the country at large can’t make social progress until we learn how to explore the other side.

Urban Challenges

We moved across the city to a larger row house for more space. So space is not an issue, however, there are times we do wish we had a garage and yard. How do your kids feel about not having a yard? Where do they play? At your local park or front/back yard if you have one?

Green spaces abound in Baltimore, as the panelists enthusiastically attested. Baltimore parks are basically like expanded back yards, according to the kids, where everyone meets up and plays and hangs out. Then again, this is a city, and some kids choose the more urban atmosphere of the alley, where they can play soccer and lacrosse, for example. These cosmopolitan kids know how to warn of approaching cars and to stay safe. Many of these kids have never known a different environment and don’t experience the lack of a back yard as any kind of disadvantage in the first place. “Kids know what they know,” in the words of one mom. Sidewalks are fun places to play, too! And, as she put it, “Yeah, [so and so] might have a great backyard, but does he have a water taxi?” Great point!

Our children love all of the fun attractions and events that take place in the city and are truly happy. As they get older, do you feel like your children were happy with their urban lifestyle?

The kids fielded this one, exclusively, and very enthusiastically. Simply put, they love living in the city! Far from outgrowing what the city has to offer, they mentioned the wealth of fun, stimulating things there are to do at any and all ages. They also enjoy feeling sorta special à la “That Girl”! They’re urbane, shopping and going out to eat along the harbor in gaggles and thoroughly enjoying it. “Where else can you do that?” asked one girl rhetorically. They know how to get around with public transportation to school or activities. They’re savvy and independent, and these qualities will serve them well through adolescence into adulthood.

Have you had problems with crime in school?

In fact, big school-related violent crimes seem to happen outside the city. Petty crimes such as having a cell phone stolen at a bus stop are easily avoided, said the parents. Teach your kids a few common sense practices, like don’t walk around the city with your valuables on display, they said. The kids spoke up to say they feel safe, despite not always going to school in “the best neighborhoods.” As must be the case in any U.S. school these days, they are coached on what to do in a variety of adverse circumstances.

Freedom

How do you deal with freedom/extending the “leash”? I feel like if we were living in the suburbs I’d be able to say to my oldest go out and play . . . but in the city you can’t really do that. Any suggestions for letting him feel like I’m trusting him to do more but still being safe?

A Fell’s Point mom turned this question on its head and made a really great point in so doing. “I feel like we can extend the leash more because we live in the city,” she said. The assumption tends to be that cities are dangerous and suburbs are safe, but relevant data hardly bears that out. City neighbors are closer in proximity and more likely to be looking out for each other, for example. Another great point she made is that with so much to do in the city, kids are less likely to go looking for trouble. Another parent pointed out that this generation of parents is much more cautious to begin with; it’s not that the city is inherently more dangerous for kids. Finally, one mom shared her strategies for reeling out freedom gradually. As your child successfully handles each milestone, he or she is granted a little more at a time, such as 15 minutes of independent exploration at the aquarium and then meeting back up/checking in at the cafeteria. “It’s really just another version,” she said, of the same kind of freedom suburban parents give. Kids can go three or four houses away to play but probably aren’t going all the way across town by themselves.

Afterschool Activities

Where do your afterschool/weekend activities take place? Suburbs? In the city/close by? 

This is one area where Baltimore has the hands down advantage. The variety and quality of available extracurricular activities is staggering. Whether your kids are into art, music, drama—whatever—there’s plenty to do! And much of it is even free. With sports, the answer is a little different, according to these parents, but that’s just the way it is no matter where you live. With competitive sports, you’re almost certainly going to have do some driving because the teams travel to compete, which requires both a commitment and a bit of a lifestyle change to keep up with weekday practices and games on weekends. It’s a decision your family and your kids will probably have to make. “Don’t get into ice hockey!” warned one mom, who finds herself driving regularly up and down the east coast, though it started as “Hockey in the Hood” (more laughter). This situation is not unique to the city, each parent was quick to remind the audience, but is the state of travel leagues in the suburbs also.

Where we grew up in the suburbs, we had great sports programs. Are there many options in the city?

Without the travel league aspect, there are plenty of kids’ sports facilities in the city, probably more than one in your neighborhood alone! Coppermine and DuBurns came up repeatedly. The Lingo Leap (where we were all sitting, coincidentally) also offers plenty of fun, unique ways to engage in physical activity!

Our child does Fitness Fun and Games after school. Are there any options for older children?

This, again, is far from a troublesome issue. One working mom explained that her daughters like to hang out at the library after school with their friends. They get their homework done there as a bonus! Each school also usually offers really terrific afterschool options, which vary from tennis to volleyball to the Audubon Society to mandolin lessons. This, said one mom, is quite different from county schools who don’t offer such school-based afterschool clubs. Another parent suggested making the afterschool offerings a criterion for choosing the middle school and high school that’ll best suit your child.

Schools (the Biggie!)

We were lucky enough to get into a great public charter school. It runs from preschool to 8th grade. But now I’m already starting to worry about high school. (My oldest is ONLY in 1st grade but I’m a planner!) Have you been through the high school process? What are your thoughts? I think that is weighing heavily on my mind as we start thinking about our next (forever) home.

The high school process is not easy, said parents and kids alike, but it’s well worth it—moreover you’re amply prepared for it in middle school. Baltimore is unique in “matching” students to schools much like is done for medical students looking for a residency hospital. There are no neighborhood-zoned schools any longer. Each child picks five schools and ranks them according to preference, then makes his or choice among those that awarded acceptance. It’s a bit complicated, but it means that your child goes to school where he or she wants to, which must make a dramatic difference in the overall high school experience.

Unfortunately, there really aren’t that many great ones to choose from, currently. Of course we have great private schools, but public options really narrow in the high school realm. The kids, however, explained “shadowing” at various highs schools and that, instead of being disappointed by their lack of choice, were almost equally enamored of each school they toured. Their excitement for high school was palpable.

As if reading the collective audience mind, the Federal Hill dad spoke next and “threw some numbers” on the problem, because many of us were probably wondering if our kids would be facing the same glorious choices that the panel kids described, or would ours not fare so well? The available spots in Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Baltimore City College, Baltimore School for the Arts, and Western High School, for example, which are Blue Ribbon schools universally considered outstanding, are enough to ensure that kids in the upper quartiles of eligibility will land one. “The fact that you’re here, concerned about your child’s education,” he continued, “says your child stands a pretty good chance.” Eligibility (except in School for the Arts, which is exclusively audition based) is based on a composite score from tests and grades in middle school, and each school weights aspects of the score differently, depending on the thrust of the school (i.e., science or art driven). Choosing a school, moreover, is based on many nonacademic aspects, and you and your child will make the choice based on what’s right for you and your circumstances.

Also, Baltimore has a way to go, said one mom, to develop the same diversity of options for high school that we have for elementary. And that’s only going to happen, she said, if families stay in the city and demand it.

Our son was lucky enough to get into a great public school that goes through 8th grade. Unfortunately, it is across the city and can be a nightmare cutting across the city. We realize that there are others who travel much farther for school. As they get older, are there transportation options?

Carpooling is a popular way to address this very real issue, so that each family is only having to drive a couple times per week. Traffic snarls, I83—driving any distance within the city can be a huge hassle. Or, not so much, said one mom. She embraces this opportunity to chat with her 15-year-old daughter who is not very forthcoming about what’s going on in her life under less “captive” circumstances.

For the parents who are sending their children to a Baltimore City Public school—do you have any safety concerns? Do you feel like they are getting a quality education and on par with other children their age?

This was another one that parents downright rejected. One mom pointed out that there’s really nothing to the stereotype that suburban schools are good and city schools are bad. Another mom cited hard data, and, if anything, her daughter’s school outperforms those in the county. Why? One mom says it’s because city schools, frankly, have to try harder. The resident dad likewise picked apart the assumption that private is better than public. There followed several personal anecdotes about school experience, with the upshot that everyone is doing just fine. A mom then spoke up with some great advise to visit the school under consideration during a typical day to see what going there is really like. Do you like what’s happening there? Is it a good fit for your child? She finished with, “You know your kid better than anybody else. You’re the expert on your child. Some kids need more structure; some are really going to do better in an environment where they can explore. You know your kid.” Another mom chimed in to say make note of what you don’t like also, because no school is going to be perfect. Which imperfections can you live with?

The bottom line is, not an audience member could have walked away without being utterly reassured that raising a family in downtown Baltimore is not only fine, but that it confers lots of advantages over suburban life. The kids on the panel were bright, articulate, self-confident, and clearly happy. They spoke for themselves in more ways than one!