Crossroads Malachi’s Story
Early Childhood Center Crystal’s Story
GEM Lisa’s Story
Lemont Cousins Feature SERVE MS Edits
Queen Been Tyshae’s Story
Tim Workforce Deshawn’s Story
UA House Franklin Family Story
Students Dreams are Nurtured at Crossroads School
At only 12 years old, Malachi Hawkins is more well-spoken and insightful than one would expect. As a 7th grade student at The Crossroads School, Malachi has found a school that will put him on a path towards realizing his potential and his dreams. Those dreams include an ambitious goal of one day fusing his penchant for math with his interest in video games, by owning his own video game development company.
Malachi lives with his great grandmother in a neighborhood in West Baltimore that is plagued by drugs and crime, a path that he has seen many of his friends already begin to walk down. With few safe spaces for Malachi to spend his out-of-school time, he is grateful to have found a home at Crossroads where he and his peers are personally invested in their own success, in an environment that encourages its students to be scholars, leaders, and citizens through its academics and various after-school sports, arts, and leadership programs.
“Crossroads is by far the best school I’ve been to, I love all the staff, they’re really passionate about what we need to learn, they really help us when we need it, and even give us their personal phone number in case we need to reach them outside of school, said Malachi.”
The Crossroads School is a top-performing public, tuition-free charter middle school located on Living Classrooms’ East Harbor Campus. The school was ranked #1 Living Classrooms opened the school’s doors in September 2002 and currently serves 160 students in 6th through 8th grades, most of whom come from poverty stricken neighborhoods, where each of the surrounding middle schools are in danger of being reorganized by the Maryland State Department of Education.
The Crossroads School prides itself on being a “school of choice” whereby students, families, and teachers choose to be a part of the Crossroads educational community. The curriculum focuses on the fundamentals of reading, writing, and math with a hands-on, interdisciplinary approach. Technology, cooperative learning, critical thinking, and real-world application of knowledge are also considered to be fundamental to the core curriculum. Students are held to high standards of character called the “Five Promises” (Honor and Integrity, Contribution, Commitment to Quality, No Excuses, and Perseverance), a tool used to inform behavior both inside and outside of the classroom.
This year, Malachi joined Crossroads’ newest program that is aimed at building the skills necessary to realize ambitions such as his, an aerial photography club that is part after-school club and part business, aptly named Skyview Photos. The goal of the program is to engage students in learning valuable STEM, business and entrepreneurial skills in an effort to prepare them for high school, college, and career. The venture is operating much like a real start-up business would, where the students are actually pitching their business to prospective clients and completing contracted jobs in return for service-learning hours.
Malachi is the company’s Safety and Liability Manager and is responsible for monitoring and maintaining the safety and integrity of the drone equipment. He is excited to have an avenue to explore entrepreneurship, math, and science more thoroughly, as he knows they will one day be critical in his success. Malachi is also the highest held pilot in the company, logging hours of practice operating the equipment, working on business presentations, and actually pitching to such clients as Waterfront Partnerships and Under Armour. In fact, after Skyview’s presentation to representatives from Under Armour, they were told that it was “the best pitch they had heard all year.” The Skyview team is currently working with students of Living Classrooms’ neighboring Fresh Start program to construct mini wooden race cars through the program’s physics curriculum.
With one more year ahead of him at Crossroads, Malachi is already planning his path for the future. With stops at Gilman School, the Ivy League, and internships at leading tech companies, Malachi’s dreams remain as bright and ambitious as he is. His teachers and staff at Crossroads are confident that, like the company, the sky is the limit for Malachi’s potential.
The Early Childhood Center Gives One Family a Head Start
Crystal J. has been taking her four-year-old son to Living Classrooms’ Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Early Childhood Center in East Baltimore since he was a newborn. Receiving both parenting and adult education services for herself and education and developmental support for her son, Crystal has become a vocal advocate for the benefits found at the Weinberg Center.
At 43 years old, Crystal was already a parent to two grown adults but found herself unemployed and under-prepared to raise another child on her own. She sought out a resource that would help both her and her son, Jon Dillon, be successful. What she found at the Weinberg Center was a well-trained and caring staff that not only delivered services at the center but also made home visits to work with Crystal on important parenting skills to support his progress both socially and physically.
Jon Dillon attended the Early Head Start Program two days per week for three years before graduating and moving onto the Head Start Program until he is school aged. At the same time, Crystal was attending regular GED classes where she learned important computer, reading, writing, and math skills, completed leadership classes, CPR certification, and job-readiness training. The program also afforded both mother and child the opportunity to spend the day together, eat lunch together at the Center, and go on field trips.
The Weinberg Center also offers adult ESL courses, community and cultural enrichment programs and events, has a community pantry and free clothing closet, and offers free dental care.
After almost four years, the growth in both Crystal and her son is evident and Crystal boasts that Jon Dillon, at one time having speech and concentration issues, has developed into a talkative and inquisitive young boy who now pulls chairs out and opens doors for the girls in the program. By her own accord, Crystal has made important strides as well, now ready to schedule her GED test, Crystal has participated in various activities offered at the Weinberg Center, joined the parent policy committee, and has become a community advocate, bringing several parents and other adults in for programming.
Crystal is proud of her accomplishments and will eagerly give credit to the programs at the Weinberg Center for giving her the tools she needs to realize her potential. “It changed me so much and filled me with so much joy, and people can see the change in me, the change in my son,” she said. “I could’ve had another baby by now because I didn’t know any better and my son would not have the strengths he has now.”
She is now looking forward to using her new skills to find employment in the child care industry. Jon Dillon will complete his final year in the Head Start Program before enrolling in the adjoining Commodore John Rodgers Elementary/Middle School next year. And it doesn’t stop there, Crystal hopes that Jon Dillon will be the first in her family to attend college and become a leader and advocate in his community.
“The center gave him the tools to help him become a positive member of the community, be respectful, get an education, and I am so grateful.”
An Empowered Girl Charts Her Own Future
Lisa is a former student at Chesapeake High School and participant in our GEM (Girls’ Empowerment Mission) program. Lisa grew up in poverty, as one of eight kids, raised by a mother with emotional problems, and a father who worked multiple jobs to provide for his family. Neither of her parents graduated high school and college was not part of the path that was expected for Lisa’s future. When she reflects upon her time in GEM, she thinks of it as the best years of her childhood.
“GEM opened up a whole world of possibilities and opportunities, people that encourage me, a family of sisters who understand and have grown up with me. GEM has been, and continues to be my support system.”
The mission of the GEM program is to empower high school girls from under served communities to become independent, self-sufficient, and confident young women. The girls participate in cultural and educational activities and field trips related to their school curriculum and engage with guest speakers and mentors in a safe, supportive, and nurturing environment. The program also prepares the girls for college and career by coordinating college visits, meetings with college counselors, and individualized attention from a mentor that assists each girl in achieving her goals.
“GEM gave me the awakening experience of seeing that there is life out there, outside of being hungry and stressed every day, outside of working three jobs and going to school full time. This program has helped me stay on track and stay in college when everything and everyone else was telling me to quit.”
Lisa recently graduated from the Universtiy of Maryland with a Master’s Degree in Physical Education. She plans on teaching physical education while enrolled in an Occupational Therapy PhD program.
“Most importantly, GEM has inspired me to give back and to do my best to leave the world better than when I entered it. Without GEM, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I have successfully broken the cycle.”
Project SERVE Connects Returning Citizen to New Career Path
“My mom is crazy, but she’s just crazy because she had to raise six boys by herself,” says Lemont Cousins, 48, while reflecting on his childhood. Cousins grew up in East Baltimore as the oldest of those six boys. He “made a lot of mistakes when [he] was young that cost [him] a lot of time and life,” as he spent “a lot” of years incarcerated until 2011, explains Cousins. Today, he is a husband, father, homeowner and manager at Waterfront Kitchen a restaurant in Baltimore’s Fells Point. He graciously credits who he is today to Living Classrooms’ Project SERVE program.
Cousins’ pre-incarceration profile is typical for those who enroll in Project SERVE; participants are typically from East Baltimore neighborhoods characterized by crime and violence who also generally experience poverty and involvement in drug culture, and many of whom have served time in jail.
Many of the program participants attribute their success to Living Classrooms’ unique model of assisting returning citizens with their assimilation back into society. Project SERVE (Service, Empowerment, Revitalization, Volunteerism, Employment Training) is a major community service and job-training initiative that serves as many as 150 unemployed and disadvantaged adults per year. The major goals of SERVE are to decrease the overall crime rate in Baltimore City by decreasing recidivism rates, positively impact communities with direct services, and provide workforce development by increasing education and marketable skills for unemployed adults. At only 9%, Project SERVE’s recidivism rate is significantly lower than the Baltimore City average of 52%.
Re-entry into the workforce, let alone coping with everyday social settings, for those leaving incarceration is extremely difficult. When Cousins was released from prison, he promised his grandmother that he wouldn’t get into trouble anymore. He applied for a variety of jobs throughout the city while living in a halfway house but didn’t get a response from a single employer. While he was searching for jobs, he was also calling Project SERVE every day just to keep his options open. Once he officially enrolled, Cousins says he realized Project SERVE was “the only thing that gave me a real chance.”
Cousins’ daily routine as part of Project SERVE’s neighborhood stabilization team, consisted of cleaning up abandoned lots throughout much of East Baltimore, picking up trash, and doing basic landscaping. As basic as these tasks may seem to others, Cousins noted that before this program he didn’t even know how to work a weed whacker. This experience was so valuable to Cousins because it taught him the meaning of wearing a uniform, showing up to work on time, and being accountable for something other than himself. He admitted, “Of course no one likes working in the cold, but you learn to adapt to it. It’s not as bad once you’re out there.”
After five months of working with Project SERVE, Cousins received an entry-level job at Waterfront Kitchen. Located inside Living Classrooms’ headquarters, Waterfront Kitchen has been a longtime supporter of the Foundation’s workforce development and re-entry initiative and is one of the few businesses in Baltimore that welcomes returning citizens, hiring a number of Project SERVE graduates over the years; Cousins swears, “95% of the staff” is from Project SERVE just like him. He points out that of course his first priority in accepting a job out of Project SERVE was for money, but the job has done more than pay the bills for him—it has had a meaningful impact on his life: “Doing good things has its rewards. Everything good happened to me because of Project SERVE. My people skills got better, I got married, had a kid, bought a house. Just one good thing happened, and it continues to happen.”
Cousins was recently promoted into management at Waterfront Kitchen, so it may come as no surprise that he is seen as a role model there. But more than that, he is also adopting that attitude with other members of Project SERVE. He continues to engage with others who have enrolled in the program and always tells them not to give up. His number one piece of advice to those in Project SERVE and those who are on a path that may lead them to incarceration is to stay focused and not lose sight of your goal. Project SERVE is a program that not only offers the education one needs, but also the support group one needs in these situations. To surround yourself with people who have the same goal as you is key, Cousins says. Though “not everybody gets it,” Cousins recommends Project SERVE to people “every day” because of “what the program has done for me, especially for being from where I’m from.”
Cousins says his goal for the future is to own his own restaurant. Even though he doesn’t know how to cook, he says he loves the business of it. “I’m not done because I haven’t reached my goal yet,” he says.
Project SERVE gives its participants the skills, education, and confidence to re-enter society post-incarceration. Lemont Cousins says, “Project SERVE was the best experience. If not for Project SERVE, I really don’t know where I would be at this specific stage in my life right now. I’m doing pretty good for myself. I’m stable. I can go to bed with a smile on my face.”
A Teenager Finds Her Voice
Tyshae C. turned 18 years old this year and since 2016 was an important election year, she used her voice to vote in the presidential election for the first time. Her voice was developed over the past two years as a member of Living Classrooms’ Queen Beez after-school program. Using hip hop as a medium to teach young girls to uplift and express themselves, Queen Beez brings girls together in a positive and constructive environment where they are encouraged to explore their ideas and potential.
Tyshae, also known by her stage name “Flowetry,” joined Queen Beez in early 2015 after another member and friend enticed her with the idea of discussing important social issues in the form of positive rap. While in the program, Tyshae and her fellow Beez met with a variety of professional mentors that engaged them on a number of issues such as bullying, body positivity, domestic violence, and self-respect, and helped them put their ideas down on paper, working with the girls on writing styles and song construction. Tyshae helped to pen nine songs during her time in Queen Beez, recording the music in a professional studio and choreographing dance moves for the music videos.
“When I hear ‘Queen Beez,’ I think of unity, peace, and happiness. Queen Beez teaches you how to become confident, open-minded, and be yourself at all times,” she reflects. “This program has given me a chance to express myself and share my thoughts creatively.”
Growing up in a single parent household in an underserved neighborhood in Washington, DC, Tyshae’s mother always had her best interests at heart but college was not necessarily expected to be part of her future, still Tyshae had big dreams for herself. During her senior year of high school she was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease and struggled to graduate amidst many days in the hospital. Tyshae persevered with the help of her friends and fellow Queen Beez, and managed to graduate high school on time with an impressive 3.6 GPA.
“As I move on to college, I will always think about Queen Beez because they taught me to never give up and to follow my dreams.”
Tyshae is currently studying social work as a freshman at Benedict College and still goes by the name Flowetry.
Queen Beez’ music videos can be found at www.youtube.com/livingclassroomsfnd
An Unemployed Father Builds Skills for a New Career
Deshawn is a 21-year-old high school graduate and father of two who has lived in East Baltimore all his life. He was unemployed and knew that he had the potential to do more but lacked the resources to turn that into action. DeShawn was introduced to Living Classrooms’ workforce development program when he was approached by a case manager in a nearby park who was circulating flyers about the job resources and skills training available at the program’s headquarters, the UA House at Fayette operated by Living Classrooms. The case manager was persistent in following up with DeShawn to discuss his goals, tell him about job opportunities he might be qualified for, and upcoming skills workshops that might be beneficial to him.
In July, 2016, Deshawn enrolled in the workforce development program that targets residents living within the Baltimore Target Investment Zone (TIZ), a 2.5 square mile area where Living Classrooms and partner organizations are working together to deliver core education, workforce development, and health and wellness programs focused on disrupting a cycle of generational poverty. Upon his enrollment, Deshawn worked with our team to create a goal strategy plan that would help guide him towards success, and then completed the program’s thirteen essential skills workshops. He learned both soft skills such as attitude and communication tools, as well as hard skills associated with digital and financial literacy, resume writing, and interview techniques.
After completing the workforce development program, DeShawn landed a construction job with Bill Bridges Enterprises. And while he is grateful for this new opportunity and steady income, he continues to visit Living Classrooms’ two workforce hubs at the UA House at Fayette and the Adult Resource Center to explore further career opportunities and utilize the social support and resources available to the community. These sites also offer on-the-spot healthcare support through Charm City Clinic as well as assistance with social services and food stamp purchase through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The community hubs are also a place where Deshawn can engage with his peers both from the program and within the community. He realizes that his experience means he has valuable insight to share with others who are walking a similar path and often finds himself dispensing advice so that he can help others become a success story too.
“It’s a program anyone can use, no matter your age, if you have the right attitude and willingness to work, anyone can be successful in this program,” he said.
Now looking toward the future, Deshawn is preparing for his entrance exam in September and is hoping to be accepted to the apprenticeship program at the local Carpenters’ Union. Now equipped to travel a successful career path, Deshawn admits he owes much of his success to the work he did in the Target Investment Zone’s Workforce Development Program. “The program changed my outlook, my every day routine, they’ve helped me so much, changed my life,” he said.
A Family Finds a Safe Place to Foster their Success
Westley F. is a single father who grew up in West Baltimore. He moved to the Pleasant View Gardens community in 2009 and enrolled his two children, London and Micah, in City Springs Elementary-Middle School. Working full-time, Westley sought out an after-school program to send his kids to while he finished his work day. With few options in the area, it was his neighbors who suggested Living Classrooms’ community center, then known as the Carmelo Anthony Youth Development Center.
What Westley found at the center was a safe environment where the staff instilled positive and consistent values in his children, similar to what they were learning at home, and who cared about their success. The staff treated his children with care and respect, and coupled with a fun environment his children have never complained about having to spend time there.
While London, now in high school, has aged out of the current elementary-middle school program, eighth grade student Micah was fortunate to witness the center’s reinvention during the summer of 2016. The center re-opened in the fall after a significant investment from Kevin Plank and Under Armour to renovate the facility and reimagine community programming. Now named UA House at Fayette, Living Classrooms has partnered with several organizations and city and state agencies to develop a multi-generational approach to deliver services to the neighboring East Baltimore community.
When Micah and his fellow classmates returned to UA House at Fayette this school year, they walked into a first-of-its-kind community hub that offers students more than just sports and recreation. The center now features 10,000 square feet of additional space that features a revitalized tutoring center, a dance and yoga studio, a state-of-the-art music production and recording studio, a STEM classroom, a neighborhood kitchen, and an indoor turf field.
Micah plays percussion in the center’s after-school music club and has big ambitions for someone his age, with plans to attend high school at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute Micah wants to study coding and one day own his own animation studio and gaming company. For now, Micah is content with knowing that UA House at Fayette offers him a safe space to nurture his interests beyond sports in an environment where he feels like he is “part of a family.” Next year, he will explore the center’s new POWER Teens program and continue to engage with the friends he’s made there.
For Westley’s part, he is grateful that Living Classrooms has created a safe place for youth to spend those critical out-of-school hours when they might otherwise engage in negative behavior and instead introduces them to new experiences. He has been actively involved in the center’s parent advisory board and believes that continued engagement with the adults in the neighborhood will foster more involved parents and a more successful community center.
With changing market demands leaning more and more towards technological fields, Westley would like to see additional tech and coding programming added to the center’s offering and believes that Living Classrooms could be helping to breed the next scientist, or doctor, or community leader who will replicate this model of community center.
“Living Classrooms really instills the desire within kids to succeed and be the best,” said Westley. “And that is worth investing in.”