In my work with the Baltimore Algebra Project (BAP), I and my peers waged a dramatic struggle against the State of Maryland, Baltimore City, and the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS). The state of Maryland was (and still is) systematically underfunding the BCPSS. I discuss this in detail in the Case for the National Student Bill of Rights . Baltimore City and BCPSS believed that the solution to the school funding issue was consolidating small schools into one large campus. Additionally, the BCPSS was cutting extracurricular programming, art, and physical activities. Because of these policies we saw a wave of new violence and increase dropout rates because of overcrowded schools.
In response to this policy, the students of the BAP develop the ABC Plan. The ABC Plan was designed in direct opposition with the school system’s policy. It was our hope that the implementation of the ABC Plan would be a corrective solution to the problems within the BCPSS.
I interviewed Chelsea Bryant, a former coworker, to shade light on the ABC Plan.
“The ‘ABC Plan’ developed by the BAP was created to address what we believed were the primary issues that needed the most attention before anything else could be addressed especially school closings and consolidation.You could think of it as BCPSS essentials to success.
A- was Arts, physical education, extra-curricular activities.
We believed arts were an essential part of success because Arts allows a student to be creative and promotes individuality that one may not be able to express in a more structured learning environment such as English or Science. However, Arts, physical education & afterschool programs were the 1st to be cut by BCPSS.
Our schools buildings were and still are to this day in deplorable shape and it is hard to learn in an environment where there is no air conditioning in the summer or no heat in the winter. The ceilings are in bad shape, students were still using desks that students used 10+ years ago, not to mention the host of other issues the buildings had such as mold and lead paint. The BCPSS did not contribute a fair portion of its budget to make repairs to the city’s crumbling schools.
C- Class sizes average 30+ students which we believed was too large for any student to get a quality, let alone an adequate education.
We thought it was unfair to both the students and teachers to endure each day. It was impossible for the teachers to try to give individual attention to all 30+ students in a 30-90 min class period and unfair to the students to not have their individual learning experience and feel ashamed to ask a question or re-examine a concept in class out of fear of ridicule or to slow the pace of learning down for other students who may have grasped (or pretended to grasp) the concept taught in class. We believe an adequate class size was 15-20 students per class which would require the hiring of more qualified teachers. Only in a smaller learning environment such as this would students receive the individual attention they need and teachers can have more time to adequately teach concepts for students to grasp.”
We didn’t know it at the time, but the ABC Plan embodied the essence of the National Student Bill of Rights. At the time, the National Student Bill of Rights (NSBR) did not exist.
A in the ABC Plan is now known as right #13 and #14 in NSBR. They read as follows:
- Students and youth shall have the right to physical activity and recreation of high quality regardless of their wealth, poverty, or place of residence.
- Students and youth shall have the right to participation in arts, music, dance, drama, poetry, and technology of high quality regardless of wealth, poverty or place of residence.
These rights are deterrents to violent forms of self-expression and criminal behavior. We know from experience that having art, music, dance, drama, and other arts readily available for youth to participate in would a means of releasing emotional frustration. Interestingly enough, the BCPSS was cutting these programs while packing multiple schools on one campus. So as you can see, we obviously had opposing on violence prevention.
B in the ABC Plan is now known as right #2 in NSBR. It reads as follows:
- Students and youth shall have the right to safe and secure public school facilities of equal quality regardless of wealth, poverty, or place of residence.
Students must have the right to safe and secure buildings. The issue we were facing was the BCPSS was closing schools because of attendance and capacity rates. You could argue that one reason for this was due to students not attending schools because of their condition. We argued that instead of closing schools the BCPSS should assess the schools to determine which schools could be renovated before closing any school.
C in the ABC Plan cannot be translated into a particular right in NSBR because it embodies the essence of NSBR. Having smaller class sizes is tangent to the quality of the learning experience. NSBR is rooted in the premise that all youth regardless of race, gender, disability, ethnicity, religion, poverty, sexual orientation, or place of residence should have a right to a QUALITY education. It is important to note that real learning requires individualized attention and cannot be done in classes of 30 students to 1 teacher.
I didn’t realize at the time that the ABC Plan had more depth than many of us thought it did. We just thought that a simple solution would work best since the BCPSS had a “complex solution.”
Bryant Muldrew is an President of the Baltimore Algebra Project (BAP) and the co-director of Follow Your Dreams, Inc (FYD) and an Community Organizer with the Institute for Democratic Education in America. Bryant participates in youth organizing around social issues related to education.