The first thing you might notice walking into John Ruhrah Elementary/Middle School in southeast Baltimore — after clearing the routine temperature check — is how quiet it is. On a normal school day, there would be around 850 students inside the massive brick building, reciting multiplication tables and chatting in the hallways.
But today is not a normal day.
“We have a total of 65 students,” said Catherine Drayton-Barber, an administrator of the Student Learning Center now located at the school. It’s one of 15 hubs the district opened throughout the city to serve students from kindergarten through fifth grade who struggled with remote learning. Priority is given to children who are homeless or have parents who have to work outside the home.
Many of the kids at John Ruhrah come from low-income immigrant families and have parents who are essential workers, Drayton-Barber said. “Students who don’t have the luxury of having access to internet, computer access, a parent who’s in the home at all times.”
Here they have laptops, Wi-Fi, a safe place to be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., where they can get breakfast and lunch — and support. The classroom staff aren’t teachers. They’re district employees whose jobs got sidelined during the pandemic, like bus aides and hall monitors.
Jessica Henkin is normally a coordinator for early-childhood special-ed programs. She’d been working from home for months when she got the call in late September to come help run the center.