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Baltimore's Charm City Virtual to Stop Serving Elementary Students; Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy West to Close

CEO Tinh Phung
By [Your Name] The Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners has made the decision to end the services of Charm City Virtual for elementary students and to close Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy West. While...

By [Your Name]

The Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners has made the decision to end the services of Charm City Virtual for elementary students and to close Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy West. While this news may come as a disappointment to many, there are important factors to consider.

A Shift in Virtual Education

Charm City Virtual will no longer teach students in second through fifth grades. Instead, students from the PORT Virtual Learning Program, which currently serves Baltimore high schoolers, will join Charm City Virtual's middle schoolers under one program. This consolidation will create a more cohesive and efficient virtual learning experience for all students involved.

City school commissioners also voted to convert the online program into a city school, making it eligible for state funding, state accountability ratings, and additional resources such as meals and health services. This move ensures that students in the virtual program receive the same benefits and support as those in traditional brick-and-mortar schools.

The Journey to Sustainability

Charm City Virtual was originally created with federal funds provided during the coronavirus pandemic. However, these emergency relief funds for elementary and secondary schools are set to expire soon, leading several Maryland districts to close their virtual learning programs. Baltimore City stands out as one of the few districts in the state that is applying to make its virtual school a permanent fixture.

With financial constraints in mind, Baltimore City Schools CEO, Sonja Santelises, has taken on the challenge of finding ways to sustain virtual learning within the district. It is essential to establish a model that is fiscally responsible while still providing high-quality education to students.

The Impact on Students and Parents

Parents and students of Charm City Virtual have expressed their appreciation for the program, particularly its benefits for students with medical conditions and emotional needs. Some parents have chosen online schooling as a solution to protect their children from bullying. The program has undoubtedly made a positive impact on the educational experiences of these students.

At a recent rally outside school headquarters, parents voiced their devastation over the loss of elementary grades. The outcry from the public, along with discussions among the commissioners, dominated the six-hour board meeting. While the decision to close the elementary program was not an easy one, it was necessary to address the budget deficit that would have resulted from allowing the 138 current elementary students to continue their classes.

D’Nyah Galloway, 10, fourth grader receives a bullhorn to speak at a rally outside North Avenue to protest the closing of a city virtual school program. Caption: D’Nyah Galloway, 10, fourth grader receives a bullhorn to speak at a rally outside North Avenue to protest the closing of a city virtual school program. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff photo)

Moving Forward

While the closure of Charm City Virtual's elementary program is final, there have been adjustments made to accommodate the affected students. Testimony from families moved Santelises to revise her plan and allow incoming fifth-grade students to remain in the program for one more year. After that, enrollment will be limited to sixth through twelfth grades starting from the 2025-26 academic year. Approximately 50 students will need to find alternative schools for the next academic year.

The Maryland State Department of Education will need to approve the application to turn Charm City Virtual's virtual learning programs into a school for sixth through twelfth grades. By law, prekindergarten and kindergarten students are not allowed to attend virtual schools, and Charm City Virtual does not currently serve first graders.

In addition to the changes at Charm City Virtual, the commissioners also approved the closure of Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy West. Its high school students will be relocated to Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts, a co-ed high school that focuses on the arts. This consolidation will enable students to collaborate and benefit from a broader range of educational opportunities.

While change can be challenging, these decisions were made with careful consideration for the sustainability and success of the Baltimore City School system. The focus remains on providing a high-quality education that meets the diverse needs of students across the city, whether through virtual or traditional means.

Principal of Bluford Drew Jemison, LaWanda Wilson, shared her thoughts on the closure, stating, "It will be bittersweet, but it's also for the best for my boys to join and collaborate with Augusta Fells." The effort and dedication of educators like Wilson continue to shape the future of Baltimore City's educational landscape.

In conclusion, the decisions made by the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners reflect the ever-evolving nature of education. While there may be initial challenges and concerns, the aim is to create sustainable and inclusive learning environments for all students. These changes are crucial for providing high-quality education and ensuring long-term success within the Baltimore City School system.

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