Five Baltimore city schools will split $300,000 in funding granted by the US Department of Education meant to help students handle the trauma they felt after the unrest in the city last spring.
Funds from the Project School Emergency Response to Violence will be used to hire additional social workers and increase professional development through the training of staff members to help traumatized students.
Five schools in West Baltimore will share the funds, determined by officials to have been affected the most by the occurrences, including Frederick Douglass High School, Gilmor Elementary School, Matthew Henson Elementary School, William Pinderhughes Elementary/Middle School and Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School. The schools are located in neighborhoods that are closely connected to the unrest and continue to be in a state of high tension over poverty and police relations.
Students returned to school last spring only 48 hours after the rioting over the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray ended, although the effects were seen for the rest of year. School officials turned in their application for the grant after they saw a decrease in attendance, an increase in suspensions, and hundreds of students withdrawing.
Gray had attended Matthew Henson Elementary School in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood and had visited there only three weeks before his death.
Gilmor Elementary serve students who live in Gilmor Houses, where Gray frequented and where he was arrested and last seen alive. It is also where a series of protests were planned in the weeks following his death, writes Erica Green for The Baltimore Sun.
Frederick Douglass High School is looked upon as the start of the rioting and looting, which began after protesters threw bricks at police officers stationed outside the school wearing riot gear.
Over 200 students withdrew from the public school system in the 33 days between April 29 and June 15. Absenteeism was also on the rise as students reported not feeling safe after learning that Gray had died of a spinal injury obtained while in police custody. Teachers and other staff members were unsure how to help them cope with feelings of fear and anxiety.
“We have to work harder and do more to ensure that our students feel safe in their schools and communities,” Ann Whalen, senior adviser to the U.S secretary of education, said in a statement. “As adults, it is our responsibility to help protect and nurture students, especially when tragic incidents occur that affect the school environment and impact the community in such a way that hinders learning. This grant will help the district move forward in restoring the learning environment.”
City officials noted that many school staff members wanted to help their students overcome their feelings of fear but were unsure how to lead classroom, small group, or individual conversations on the topic.
U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes announced the grant, saying that the events of April took away students’ sense of security and faith in their community. He added that the funding was the first step toward healing the city and would allow students to feel safe again.