I’m not a poet, but I'm part of this class to coordinate student transportation. On Monday afternoons -- when two vans set out to pick up the 18 Baltimore City students who are taking this course -- I wish I had multiple cell phones. Both the east and west-side vans make three pick-ups at schools, and after class each van makes nine drop-offs. Two weeks into class, we’re still working with the transit company to smooth out the routes, and consequently, I remain in constant contact with the students. I accompany students on one of the routes home, and last week, the bus was silent. Some students stared into math books and others dozed against the windows. After a full day in high school and then a class at Johns Hopkins, the kids were exhausted. The kids have been saintly in their patience--waiting in the rain, trekking across campuses to locate the bus, and not giving up and going home during the difficult first day of the routes.
Getting the Baltimore City high school students to and from Johns Hopkins feels like a miracle. Perhaps this is why I speak in the language of saints and their patience.
When I founded Writers in Baltimore Schools eight years ago, I wrote in my application to the Open Society Institute Baltimore Community Fellows program that I anticipated student transportation being a challenge. This was a hunch I had, having spent four years living in Baltimore as a Johns Hopkins undergrad. But it was only in practice that I truly came to understand what this meant. In 2009, when WBS held its first open mic, only one student showed up. This 4th grader attended because a teacher drove her, as her mother worked during the after school hours.
Baltimore students typically get to and from school with an S-Pass, a bus pass that lets them onto the bus up until 8 p.m. on weekdays. S-Passes do not work on the weekends. On weekends, students are on their own to pay for bus fare.
For the Poetry & Social Justice course, we’re fortunate to have Johns Hopkins footing the bill for our two vans. We worried about relying on students’ S-Passes, as some of our events would end past 8 p.m. (like last night's BreakBeat Poets’ performance after class, which most of our students stayed for). However, apart from our bus trip to camp, WBS typically does not have the luxury of chartering vehicles. I dream that we someday will be able to, but until then, we transport students to and from extracurricular literary events through kind volunteers and Uber rides. And Baltimore is a city full of extracurricular literary events.
Recently, I got looped into a Twitter conversation with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake about this issue of student S-Passes not working on weekends. Backstory: I’d gone on a Twitter spree (below), which was spotted by a local activist, who then reached out to the Mayor.
@MayorSRB has responded several times to report that she’s looking into the issue, and I’m grateful to have her sustained attention. To ensure that this dialogue continues, I have embarked on a project of tweeting at her anytime I see an event that my students might enjoy attending.
Know of a literary event that Baltimore students might enjoy attending? Send it my way (@patricey), and I’ll both pass it along to students and ensure that Mayor Rawlings-Blake continues to understand what kind of opportunities Baltimore students regularly miss out on due to transportation challenges.