The Power of Partners

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan highlights collaboration between UMBC and a Baltimore City school.

Education can blaze a path to a brighter future for kids in underserved communities, particularly when students have the support they need to tap into a passion for learning. Just ask the kids at Lakeland Elementary/Middle School in Southwest Baltimore.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan did just that on a recent visit to UMBC. Sixth-grader NaShaya Maxwell trumpeted her pride in Lakeland’s robotics team. Student Johanna Funes glowed with energy when she described “the many ways to get an answer” in math, her favorite subject. When another sixth-grader mentioned a love for math, Duncan helped the students puzzle through an equation.

America’s top education official came to the meeting to see how a powerful new partnership between UMBC and Lakeland is promoting students' academic success through providing innovative kinds of support inside and outside the classroom.

UMBC brings two essential pieces to the partnership, which began last fall. The first is a direct pipeline of teachers coming from the university’s acclaimed Sherman STEM Teachers Scholars Program to work in Lakeland classrooms. The second is a network of active personal and community interventions spearheaded by two key Shriver Center programs—the Choice Program and Shriver Peaceworker Program—to support Lakeland’s educational mission.

Lakeland principal Najib Jammal says that UMBC’s support for the school is already paying dividends. “The partnership is just beginning to scratch the surface as we just completed our first semester,” Jammal shares. “We believe it will help our students and teachers re-envision what is possible and result in opportunities that allow students to demonstrate their learning.”

The UMBC/Lakeland partnership is the product of a shared vision between UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski, III and George and Betsy Sherman, founders of the Sherman Family Foundation, to enable the university to have a more direct and immediate impact in Baltimore schools.

The Sherman STEM Teacher Scholars Program is a selective scholarship program that identifies and nurtures students who want to become science and math teachers serving high-need communities. Sherman Scholars bolster Lakeland’s efforts to improve student learning in reading and math, while gaining invaluable early experience that will shape their careers as professional educators.

“UMBC is providing a gateway to get these field experiences,” F. Atom Zerfas ’13, mathematics, a Sherman program alumnus and a teacher at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, told Duncan, “and the field experiences made me prepared to teach.”

Teaming up with Sherman Scholars at Lakeland are AmeriCorps fellows from UMBC’s Choice Program, a national model for sustained personal and academic support for young people who are in contact with the juvenile justice system. These fellows are providing direct assistance to 40 Lakeland students identified by teachers and administrators as those who would most benefit from the kind of intensive support the program offers.

Support involves 24/7 outreach and intervention from mentors who set high expectations for program participants and give them the stability and assistance they need to meet those expectations. The Choice Program has a success rate between 70 and 90 percent in combating recidivism among participating youth.

John Martello, vice provost of UMBC’s Division of Professional Studies, was the executive director of the Shriver Center when Mark Shriver, son of Center founders Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, created the Choice Program in 1987.

“There wasn’t a university in the country that did direct service in the way that [the Choice Program] did when it was founded,” Martello told Duncan.

Although this type of program is still rare, new initiatives that reflect Choice principles and build on its success are emerging. President Barack Obama recently launched My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative to promote academic and professional achievement among young African American men. As chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans, Hrabowski attended the White House celebration announcing My Brother’s Keeper. David Johns, executive director of the White House initiative that commission supports, also attended the meeting with Secretary Duncan at UMBC.

The UMBC/Lakeland partnership is still new, but the institutions have already seen promising results. Early highlights include a boost in parent participation in the school and focus on health and urban gardening initiatives. The Shriver Center has enlisted scholars in its Peaceworker Fellows Program for returning Peace Corps volunteers to build support for the partnership in the local community, extending its reach.

Lakeland students who spoke with America’s top education official during his UMBC visit confirmed the effect that the partnership is having on their studies and goals.

“My teachers are giving me the power and the knowledge to get to the long-term [goals that I have],” said Johanna Funes.

“This isn’t just about making sure [these students] make it,” Hrabowski told Duncan. “We want these students to become whoever they want to become.”