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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University December 8, 2003 | Vol. 33 No. 14
Baltimore City to open 'innovation high school' based on CSOS model

By Amy Cowles

In September 2004, the Baltimore City Public School System will open a new high school based on a model created by the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University.

Known as the Baltimore Talent Development High School, it will be one of the city's "innovation high schools," neighborhood schools embracing new visions of what makes an urban high school successful. The Talent Development High School model is already in place in more than 50 schools in 10 states and the District of Columbia.

"But this is the first time we will be building a high school from scratch," said CSOS research scientist Robert Balfanz. "We're very excited to be doing this in Baltimore."

Sharing space in a building that currently houses Harlem Park Middle School at 1500 Harlem Ave., the Baltimore Talent Development High School will offer a full academic program, fea-turing "double doses" — two courses per year — of literacy and mathematics instruction for students who need to catch up. It also will offer early college and advanced placement courses for eligible students.

The plan is to enroll 180 ninth-graders for the 2004-2005 school year, adding a new class of freshmen each year until the school has about 600 students in ninth through 12th grades. The Baltimore Talent Development High School will enroll students from across the city, though most will be drawn from the neighborhood surrounding the school. CSOS researchers will have a hand in hiring the principal and teaching staff.

The innovation high school program is funded by the city and the Fund for Educational Excellence, a 20-year-old partnership of businesses, parents, educators and community members dedicated to improving educational opportunities and the academic performance of students in the Baltimore City public school system. The Baltimore Talent Development High School will receive $600,000 over five years for start-up costs and professional development for teachers.

The Talent Development model is designed to counterattack the things that make students want to drop out of high school, Balfanz said. In urban settings, it's typical for 80 percent of the students to miss 20 or more days of school each year.

"The Talent Development model combats feelings of anonymity and apathy," Balfanz said. Those feelings are quashed in Talent Development schools with Freshman Seminar, part of the ninth-grade curriculum. The course helps students make the transition from middle to high school by focusing on study skills, time management, test taking, goal setting and peer relationships. Research shows that students unprepared for the demands of high school are the most likely to drop out; Freshman Seminar aims to prevent this.

Once students are working to grade level and have gotten the swing of high school, the Talent Development model then empowers students to make choices about the future through real world-focused courses of study, Balfanz said. "Students in urban schools often wonder, Why am I here? At the same time, some students in these schools are thinking about college, but they're not sure how to get there."

To that end, the Baltimore Talent Development High School will contain schools within the school in the form of "career academies" — one focused on arts and communications and the other on science and technology. Students in the upper grades will select which career academy they'd like to attend based on exploration during their freshman year.

In addition to core classes, each school day will include a 45-minute arts period built into the schedule at the end of the day, when it's anticipated that students will be able to take chorus or band, participate in a theater group or join the debate team.

"It's a 'just for the joy of it' period," Balfanz said. "This kind of enrichment has been cut away from many schools, and it's so necessary. Students need to stretch themselves in a different way."

Civic engagement projects also will be curriculum components, Balfanz said. Students will research a problem they see in their own neighborhoods and come up with a solution. At the end of the year, they'll present their plans at a press conference, Balfanz said.

"It's really about getting the students to become active in their community, showing them that they can make a difference there," he said.

While the Baltimore Talent Development High School will present a great opportunity for city students, it also will offer CSOS researchers and curriculum writers a chance to see their work in action, allowing them to see what works for students and teachers and what needs further study, Balfanz said.

"The goal isn't to create a school that can only exist with a partnership with a university," Balfanz said. "We want other schools to see that this is a real school in a real city environment and that it's a model that can work anywhere."


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