Loyola graduate makes a difference at West Baltimore school
December 15, 2015
At the beginning of the academic year at Gilmor Elementary School in West Baltimore, not a day went by when a boy in Katie Brown’s second-grade classroom didn’t hurl a desk, punch a locker, or try to hurt himself.
The student, “one of the cutest, smartest, and most adorable” children Brown, MAT ’15, said she’s ever met, couldn’t control his anger. And Brown struggled to break through to him.
“The first month of school was so hard dealing with him because I didn’t have the relationship with him,” said Brown, who arrived at the Sandtown-Winchester school this fall after earning a master’s degree in Elementary Education from Loyola University Maryland—and just a few months after the neighborhoods surrounding Gilmor were rocked by riots following the death of Freddie Gray, Jr., while in police custody.
Brown decided she would make a special effort to get to know her troubled student. She sat by his side at lunch. She talked with him every day. She tried to understand his anger.
Three months later, the boy still has occasional tantrums, Brown said, but his behavior has improved immensely.
“Because I’ve gotten so close to him,” she said, “if he’s acting up, the second he sees me, I’m a release for him and he trusts me. He’ll stop what he’s doing.”
In the end, she added, “You can tell all he really needs is a hug.”
Making a difference in the lives of children who are faced with daily challenges that many others couldn’t fathom is the reason Brown is devoting her career to urban education.
A product of Baltimore City public schools herself, the 26-year-old educator caught the teaching bug volunteering at The Ark, a pre-school for homeless children in Baltimore.
Faculty in Loyola’s School of Education emphasized the importance of reading and presented diverse teaching techniques and tactics, said Brown, whose student-teaching internship was at Holabird Academy in East Baltimore.
“In all my classes, my professors kept stressing that you need at least 1,000 books in your classroom library,” Brown explained. “The more books, the better the students will grow academically.”
Brown sought donated books from family and friends when she arrived at Gilmor, setting up an Amazon.com “wish list” for her classroom. She has received thousands of books for her classroom library.
“The key is providing children books they can relate to,” said Brown, who has a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Maryland. “They aren’t going to be interested in a book on owling. I don’t think most of them know what an owl is. Most of them have never been outside Baltimore city.”
Many of the students at Gilmor live in the same public housing project where Freddie Gray was raised. They often come from single-parent families and sometimes confront drug-related violence in their neighborhoods.
One of Brown’s students repeatedly says she wishes Brown was her mother, sending her heart-felt notes. And Brown said others have behavioral issues similar to the student who threw desks.
While she drives home some days feeling “super stressed,” she noted that “within 10 minutes of the school, I already miss them.”
“I absolutely love every single one of the,” Brown said.
“I keep saying the lows are lower than probably most other places, but the highs are extremely high. It’s the little things that are so amazing: when they get something, or when they come up to me and give me a hug, or when they work out a problem verbally without fighting. I love it.”
To make a donation of books or other classroom supplies, visit Brown’s wish list at www.tinyurl.com/browngilmor.