In their slumber, as youngsters, they are eager to get up and head to their neighborhood schools. But many of these early students can’t say the words to the chant they’ll soon become familiar with: “I need an army.”
A Wednesday news release out of Baltimore schools put this classic rallying cry front and center in an advertisement seeking military veteran volunteers for a new program designed to reach out to students across the city. The program is called “I Need an Army,” and educators are hoping to collect 1,500 volunteers to join them in eight days.
As the release reads, “the need for volunteerism and military veteran involvement is incredible in many parts of the city.” In a best-case scenario, Baltimore hopes to send 1,500 veterans and 1,500 additional adults to tutor 21,000 at-risk students in math, science and social studies.
“In Baltimore, your service as a volunteer greatly enhances the experience of teaching in these dynamic schools,” one description of the campaign reads.
In a September announcement, Baltimore schools said they hoped the “I Need an Army” program would bring “a special layer of generosity and human connection to the way educators interact with students.”
The program is modeled on Armed Forces Week, which “invites the community to join alumni of the U.S. armed forces in expressing gratitude and support to the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” the release said. And as a tie-in, event organizers encourage visitors to visit the Army’s website, which has information on scholarships, military-related jobs and honors, as well as how to become a foster parent, join a charity or other endeavors.
Baltimore public schools currently have about 36,000 students, 19,000 of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
According to a report published last spring by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 7,000 people were among those Baltimore students without any educational resources. Among those absent at least 10 percent of the time and unable to get an education, 78 percent were “poor” or “bunched,” meaning they earn less than 60 percent of what a student from a higher-income family would.
As of Tuesday morning, the Baltimore schools program was receiving donations through the movement-building app Whirlpool and through Facebook events such as “Milestone Day.” The school district wrote a Facebook post that said military-connected organizations, such as the USO, have also donated school supplies.
Each participating volunteer will spend 10 minutes a day for one month, starting Wednesday, teaching at least one student the alphabet in one classroom. Schools are required to provide uniforms and “access to clean restrooms, lockers, and other facilities.”
Volunteers will also work with students in kindergarten through eighth grade on other literacy-based tasks — such as counting aloud, closing their eyes and writing down what they see, a skill that is also necessary for learning to read.
Last year, school districts in Atlanta, Boston, New York and Newark completed similar military recruitment campaigns, aiming to bolster their own teaching ranks.
I Need an Army is funded by $250,000 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Edward R. Murrow Leadership Fund. More information about volunteers, and other opportunities to help in the Baltimore public schools, is available online.