Julie Clark, was teaching an elective on modern Africa at about five years ago, when a student told her how much the turmoil on that continent reminded her of Baltimore.
Clark said the student, who was a Baltimore resident, told her that the city, much like Africa, had always been troubled and would always be troubled.
"I thought, ‘oh my gosh’ It felt terrible to hear this girl say this. And to be 18 and have this picture of Baltimore," Clark said.
So Clark, who grew up in Ten Hills, developed the class "Down to The Wire," which is open to seniors at Bryn Mawr, and , to give students the opportunity to delve deeper into the issues facing Baltimore using unorthodox materials, such as The Corner and The Wire.
"I was thinking about how can we frame this in a way that’s understandable to teenagers that these problems aren’t larger than us and aren’t insurmountable," she said.
But the class doesn’t limit students to learning about the city through fiction and nonfiction. Clark takes students on the University of Baltimore’s driving tour of the Martin Luther King Jr. riots, and requires students to go to various neighborhoods to perform surveys and talk to residents as part of the class.
Eliza Steiner, a 17-year-old Cockeysville resident, didn’t really know too much about Baltimore, but was curious. She had heard stories about life in the city from her grandmother, who grew up in Dickeyville, but she wanted to form her own perspective.
"I think it opened up my comfort level with the city, because living in the county, I’ve been afraid to go into the city in to certain areas," Steiner said. "But [Clark] taught us signs to look out for and for things that you might want to stay away from, she also told us that some of these areas really aren’t as bad as we thought they are."
Steiner, a senior at Bryn Mawr, said one of the most memorable experiences happened while she and a classmate were standing on North Avenue in the Walbrook community trying to gather interviews for a project.
While they were standing there a man on a bike—sensing the pair were slightly out of place—rode up to see if they were OK. The students and the man began talking and he started telling the students about his life and his plans for the future.
"He was telling us all about his life and how he was becoming a barber, and getting his barber’s license and trying to make a life for himself," she said.
Drew Ghysels, a Gilman senior who moved to Lake Roland a few years ago from Florida, said the class helped put his new hometown, and its problems, into perspective. He said learning about the class helped him put the city and its struggles—especially with drugs—into context.
"I really like the class. It was a lot of discussion, a lot of free talk, a lot of talking about whatever came to mind, talking about the issues we see. [Clark] did the class really well," Ghysels said.
Clark said that teaching the class has changed her life, and that it has provided a rare opportunity for an educator to see something they’ve taught impact a student’s life.
“To actually be involved in the way [students] view things feels great. And that they don’t just come away with 'this is a rotten city, and I want to get out of here,'” Clark said.