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East Baltimore students back to school lesson? How to keep a promise

When the doors of the "temporary" East Baltimore Community School (EBCS) open for the first time on Aug. 31, students in the brand-new, brightly colored classrooms will learn about reading, arithmetic, and how to keep a promise.

That's because the school itself is a promise, one that East Baltimore Development Inc. made to the residents of its 80-acre site six years ago when it undertook the largest redevelopment project in Baltimore's history. At the time, some 70 percent of the homes in the EBDI site lay vacant and, without the requisite student- and tax-base, the local Elmer G. Henderson School was closed. Remarkably, EBDI promised those residents who remained in the area not only a new school, but a temporary one while the permanent school was being built.

That temporary pre-K through 8th grade school, EBCS, is now a reality. According to EBDI Communications Director Sheila Young, EBCS is a "contract" rather than a "charter" school, which allows EBDI to reserve 70 percent of its enrollment spots for kids from the immediate neighborhood as well as the children of former residents who have been relocated because of development activities (EBDI will also provide free transportation). The single-story, modular building, located at the corner of Wolf and East Chase Street between, is comprised of several trailers that have been brought in and bolted together.

"On the outside it's utilitarian, but we're doing things to make the area inside and around the school more welcoming and nurturing to the children," Young says.

The trailers came painted in colors chosen by Principal Cathleen Miles, and boast colorful murals, whiteboards, storage areas, wet sinks -- even little cubbies and "a tiny potty" for the kindergartners. Philadelphia-based, multinational food services giant ARAMARK sent 150 volunteers to create an outdoor classroom with a stage, benches, and podium, Young says.

The 19,300 square-foot, $1.6 million school, which EBDI undertook with partners such as Johns Hopkins University, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the City of Baltimore, will open this year to roughly 140 kindergartners, first-graders and fifth-graders. Two new grades will be incorporated each subsequent year with the addition of new trailers to accommodate them. The school will be operational for at least three or four years until the permanent school is completed, which Young says requires first the acquisition and demolition of homes in a four-block area bordered to the south by Ashland Avenue, the east by Patterson Park Drive the north by the Amtrak lines and the West by Chester Street. A design for the permanent school will be selected later this year.

Source: Sheila Young, EBDI
Writer: Lucy Ament
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