School of Education Blog

Small school in Southeast Baltimore, a beacon of hope for our troubled city

Recently, I read about a complicated funding issue that will impact Title 1 schools in Baltimore City serving immigrant students, drastically cutting their resources. It is unfortunate when bureaucracy gets in the way of caring for the most vulnerable members of our society. We should all be clamoring to provide students, teachers, and schools any and all resources they need to ensure that we have an educated and informed citizenry. 

To contrast that bleak portrait, I also read in recent news of the death of someone I deeply admired who would agree with me: Jean Vanier. Vanier headed L’Arche, which became an international movement of communities dedicated to bringing together individuals born with all different talents and gifts including those who are most vulnerable: people with developmental disabilities. I am struck at the contrast between these two pursuits, and I am most inspired by Vanier’s vision.
I have seen a similar, albeit different but equally inspiring vision like L’Arche locally at Archbishop Borders School in southeast Baltimore. Instead of bringing together people with disabilities with others in community, this school brings together another vulnerable population in today’s society—immigrants with non-immigrants. The vision of this small K-8 Catholic school brings out the best in the different communities, specifically through dual language programming so that students truly learn to understand each other, to note the ways that language conveys culture, and to appreciate each other’s uniqueness. Students begin in the pre-K years learning academic content in both Spanish and English which continues through their elementary years contributing to long-term learning gains, as well as—like with Vanier’s L’Arche community—a deepened sensitivity and appreciation for other cultures. 

Also similar to the L’Arche concept is the way in which vulnerable and less vulnerable populations experience community together. One of Archbishop Borders’ belief statements underscores the idea that knowing two languages prepares students to “participate and thrive in a diverse world.” Currently, those among us who are immigrants, whether with proper documentation or not, are some of the most vulnerable members in our society. Children and families are suffering inexorably right now as a result of the cruel bureaucratic implementation of what amounts to domestic terrorism against Latinos. And trauma comes as a result of this unpredictability. Having a safe space to share and celebrate differences today should be cherished and celebrated. 

Not everyone will agree with my strong description of such policies, but I ask you to consider the casualties that can come as a result of living in fear. And further, consider the opposite that could result—a vision “of radical welcome, inclusion and joy, where each person is valued and celebrated,” which was how the L’Arche national leader described Vanier. That same spirit of radical welcome is what I feel each time I step in to Archbishop Borders School. 

I saw this radical embrace when a staff member lost his younger brother to an act of senseless violence in our currently-troubled city. Within days, his family has received an outpouring of love, condolences, and financial support to help with the funeral expenses.

I also had the opportunity to meet with a group of parents to talk about the future of the school. The parents of Archbishop Borders School, collectively, are the strength of what we are as a nation—our diversity. They are Black, White, Latino, professionals, working class, English-speakers, Spanish-speakers, bilingual, and monolingual. All together the school community represents an amazing cross-section of Baltimore that’s unusual for a school, yet here it exists in all its glory, and the school community nourishes diversity through its existence. 

Stephanie A. Flores-Koulish, Ph.D.
Stephanie is the director of the Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice program at Loyola and the board chair of Archbishop Borders School.