Mayor, non-profit celebrate continued growth of literacy program

On Oct. 7, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and non-profit Reading Partners joined forces to celebrate the success of the Third Grade Reads initiative. TGR aims to bring students across the city up to grade-level literacy through volunteer based tutoring. The initiative is a partnership between the city and Reading Partners, a non-profit organization that tutors in elementary schools across the country.

Site Coordinator, Sharae Felder and a student at Friendship Acad- emy at Cherry Hill. Photo courtesy of Reading Partners
Site Coordinator, Sharae Felder and a student at Friendship Acad- emy at Cherry Hill.
Photo courtesy of Reading Partners

Reading Partners began working in the city in January of 2012. It’s little surprise that they chose Baltimore, a city with widespread poverty and a chronically fraught public school system. In 2011, only 44 percent of Baltimore fourth graders from low-income families were able to read proficiently. By the end of Reading Partners’ founding year, the Mayor and the non-profit had launched TGR.

“Third Grade Reads helps struggling students with one-on-one tutoring,” Mayor Rawlings-Blake explained at the 2012 launch. “[TGR] will improve their reading skills and prepare them for a successful future.”

This remark touches on Reading Partner’s core idea: that one-on- one tutoring is the best way to help students. The organization relies almost entirely on volunteers. Each volunteer comes in one or two hours a week, depending on availability. Tutors use the provided curriculum, and sit down with the same child every week. By working with the same partner consistently, the tutor and student foster a relationship and have fun with one another, all the while improving the student’s literacy. In fact, studies have shown that after 26 hours of tutoring, most students gain an entire grade level in reading skills.

It’s no surprise that the primary goal for the Reading Partners is to gain more volunteers. In this way, TGR has been a great help. First, it has increased awareness throughout the city. Secondly, the Mayor recently signed an executive order that allows city workers to receive two hours of paid leave to tutor with the organization.

There is little doubt that both the efforts of the city and the efforts of Reading Partners are paying off. In 2012 the center served 41 students; now Reading Partners has expanded to serve nine schools throughout the city, with 500 volunteers serving 450 students.

When I spoke to the development manager Amanda Fisher, she strongly encouraged UB students to consider volunteering. It only takes one hour a week. The schools are spread throughout the city, so there is most likely one close to you. “The more tutors we have,” she said, “the more students we serve.”

Reading Partners has impressive goals for the years to come. According to Fisher, the hope is to expand to twenty schools and to serve 1000 students by the 2016-2017 school year.

If you’re interested in volunteering, you can visit the Reading Partners site at http://readingpartners.org/ baltimore/baltimore-schools

Seeing fall colors in Baltimore and beyond

By Mia White

After a relatively mild October, the leaves are just beginning to change in and around the city. Even on Gordon Plaza, the color of trees is growing warmer. Although central Maryland may not be considered a prime foliage destination, there are a number of places to visit for impressive displays. The UB Post has chosen three destinations; the first two are mostly accessible by car, but the third is easily reachable from the UB campus.

Loch Raven Reservoir, Towson

Loch Raven Drive is closed on the weekends
Loch Raven Drive is closed on the weekends

 

The area around Loch Raven Reservoir has spectacular forests with brilliant fall colors. Just a few weekends ago, the steep shores surrounding the water were bright gold. This golden color came from the Tulip Poplars, which are the tallest and straightest hardwood trees on the east coast. Most other trees were just beginning to turn, so visitors will likely still see striking hues.

Foliage below Loch Raven’s Dam
Foliage below Loch Raven’s Dam

 

Drive up from Providence Road to Loch Raven Drive. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, a portion of the road is closed to cars so that cyclists and pedestrians are free to enjoy the route without traffic.

Patapsco Valley State Park

The Patapsco Valley Park system is a large one, with multiple recreation areas all along the western border of the city. The areas closest to Ellicott City have a lot to offer, including a range of trails that climb the hills surrounding the river, swinging bridges, and a waterfall. Since the entire park is heavily forested, autumn is one of the best seasons to visit. The Buzzards Rock Trail in the Hilton area is a steep one, but well worth it, with stunning views up and down the valley.

For free parking, you can reach the Avalon Area by stopping at the Park n Ride off route 1-66 from I-95, and walking 100 yards down Rolling Road to the Soapstone Trail.

Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore City

If you take the glass elevator up to the twelfth floor of the Angelos Law Center and look east, you will see a tall, dark spire in the midst of a clump of trees. Though it looks like a church, this is actually the Chapel of Green Mount Cemetery.

A ten-minute walk from UB’s campus, this 19th century landmark is worth visiting all year round, but it is especially beautiful during the fall. There are eleven species of hardwood trees within the cemetery’s sixty-eight acres, including gingkoes, which are known for their brilliant yellow hue. Enter through the southwest gate off East Oliver Street, and be sure to stop in to pick up a map with interesting burial sites for Baltimoreans Johns Hopkins, Enoch Pratt, and infamous John Wilkes Booth.

 

BMA celebrates 100 years, re-opens American Wing

By Mia White

This November, the Baltimore Museum of Art will open its newly renovated American Wing to the public. This re-opening coincides with the BMA’s 100th anniversary, and so throughout this year the museum is hosting a huge number of events, and throwing a few parties too.

The renovation of the American Wing is part of a $28 million project that has been underway since 2010. The project also encompasses the Contemporary Wing—which opened in November of 2012—and the east entrance and museum shop— which will open on Nov. 1.

The newly renovated American Wing promises to feel almost completely new. It will feature modern lighting, herring-bone wood floors and a new selection of wall colors. Of course, the collection itself will still be recognizable to long-time Baltimore residents. More than 800 works of art, ranging from the 18th to the 20th century, will be on display. Rather than separating one type of art from another, the rooms will be integrated. All varieties of artpainting, sculpture, and decorative art—will be displayed throughout.

Gamynne Guillotte, Director of Interpretation and Public Engagement, added that visitors will also see a broadened narrative on the paneling.

“Curator David Park Curry has focused on placing American art within a larger international context,” Guillotte explained. “[We are] celebrating that which is both local and global about American art.”

Coinciding with the unveiling of the American Wing on Nov. 23 is another exciting re-opening: the museum’s main entrance. Visitors will once again climb the impressive terraced steps, pass between the BMA’s two iconic lion sculptures, and enter the museum through its grand doors, as architect John Russel Pope intended.

Even before the grand opening, Baltimoreans can take advantage of some of the anniversary celebrations. The BMA 100 day celebration began in September and runs through the end of the year, with festivities seemingly occurring daily. Some of the biggest events are member exclusive previews, and others—like the 100th Anniversary Gala or the Party of the Century—require a pricey ticket. Still, the museum is hosting many events that are free and open to the public.

By far the biggest happening though, is the American Wing Opening Celebration, on Nov. 23. If you pick only one event to attend, Guillotte insists the day-long American Wing Opening is certainly the one.

Many of the events include direct interaction with contemporary artists. Michelle Nugent will listen to visitor stories while giving pedicab rides around Wyman Dell as part of an oral history project, Alex Vernon will be making free hand-cut silhouettes, and Brooks Long is organizing musical performances by a slew of local musicians. And if these offerings aren’t enough to get you out of the house on a Sunday, Charm City Cakes will be giving away free slices of a special birthday cake made just for the century-old museum.

Cake aside, the most hands-on occasion is certainly the ceremonial step-scrubbing performance organized by artist Megan Hildebrandt. If you arrive early enough and bring your gloves, you might get a chance to take park in the scrubbing of the Merrick Entrance steps.

The multi-faceted, abundant offerings on the day are part of the BMA’s effort to reach beyond the usual “museum going” community.

Even after the excitement of the BMA’s 100th birthday dies down, the museum will continue to strive for an engaging programming to draw people from throughout the city and beyond.

“In everything that we do, we seek to give people a way to connect with the works in our galleries through the lens of their interests,” Gamynne explained. “So, even if you’re not a regular museum goer, you might attend any of these activities and be surprised by how the art at the BMA relates to what you already know, value, and like.”

And beyond all the interesting programming, the $28 million renovation will continue into the Spring of 2015, when the African and

Asian art galleries will re-open, both offering larger spaces to display these important collections. In the Fall of 2015, the learning and creativity center will open, expanding the museums interactive and educational offerings.

And for the more introverted members of the UB community, remember that since November 2006, the BMA has been free. Once the crowds have died down, drop by on a rainy weekday to explore the museum’s eclectic and impressive collections when the galleries are hushed.

The BMA is located at 10 Art Museum Drive, Baltimore MD 21218. You can find them online at artbma.org

All photos courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Center Stage’s Amadeus is Dynamic, Visually Rich

By Mia White

Center Stage’s Amadeus is one of the more ambitious productions that the playhouse has put on in recent years. Dynamic and visually rich, the play has an engaging cast, effective choreography and beautiful period costumes that make for a sumptuous theatrical treat.

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The English playwright wrote Amadeus for the stage in 1979, and then adapted it to screen for the award-winning 1984 film. The play is a fictionalized story guided by the dying composer Antonio Salieri who, at the start of the play, claims to have poisoned Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The play then flashes back to Mozart’s unruly arrival in Vienna in 1781, and follows Salieri’s jealous sabotage of the young composer’s career. It is a play about envy and genius, and the creation of art and the creation of self.

The costumes for the play are enjoyably extravagant. For the most part they feel authentic – at least to the untrained 21st century eye. Of course, a big piece of Mozart’s quirky grandiosity comes from his colorfully clashing costumes. He almost always seems to be wearing five colors at a time. This contrast is one very effective way of building Salieri’s comparative dignity in the eyes of the audience.

Similarly, the choreography of this production is vital not only in audience engagement, but as part of the storytelling process. Because Solieri is constantly interacting with the audience in longer monologues, the dynamic movement of his character keeps the journey of the story moving forward. Meanwhile, whenever Mozart steps on stage, his explosive and excitable presence contrasts strongly with the reserved stoicism of the aristocratic characters. Though there are moments that seem almost too cinematic – such as the frequent freezing of characters mid pose – for the most part the choreography works to consistently enhance the story.

But as is always the case in theater, the heart of the play lies in the actors, most especially in the two main characters. Mozart, played by Stanton Nash, is written as an immature and initially unlikable character. If at times Nash’s performance seemed over the top – especially in the earliest scenes of the play – it only worked to further our attachment to our anti-hero Solieri. Nash’s flamboyance in the first half of the play deflated considerably in the second, and it is his effective dissolution into madness that earns our pity as the play progresses.

The anchor of the entire performance is Bruce Randolph Nelson as Solieri. From the very beginning he builds an intimacy and rapport with the audience. As the story builds momentum, Nelson’s wryness and sincerity means we cannot help but side with Solieri, even as he pulls the strings that will lead to Mozart’s unraveling. Nelson’s performance is especially moving in moments where he listens to Mozart’s compositions. The layering of emotions – of being simultaneously moved by the music and incredibly jealous of its origins – is astounding.

Though the run of Amadeus at Center Stage is now over, many are undoubtedly still feeling the play’s impact. If you are interested in seeing a performance at the theater, the contemporary rock opera Next to Normal will be running through mid-November.

Photo Credit

Omicron Delta Kappa host 9/11 observance in memorial garden

Just before 5 p.m. on Thursday September 11, a small gathering of students and staff sat talking quietly in Gordon Plaza. It was an overcast, humid day that felt more like August than September, with low clouds broken by occasional sunlight. A few rows of chairs faced the garden on the west side of the plaza, where a pile of smooth stones rests amongst freshly planted flowers.

The audience came to remember September 11, and the three UB alumni who lost their lives in the attacks. Omicron Delta Kappa began hosting the observance three years ago, when members of the society noticed that the memorial garden had fallen into neglect. The bronze memorial plaque is on the fence small and easy to miss. It is unsurprising that most of the audience members I speak to acknowledge they had no idea that three alumni died in the event. This is precisely why ODK took the time to weed the garden, plant flowers and host the memorial.

“We wanted the garden to be more visible,” explained Lauren Lake, president of ODK. “So people would be more aware of our connection to the events.”

At 5:05, it became clear that the podium and microphone wouldn’t be available for the event. Lauren broke the news to poet Ron Williams, but he just smiled, unfazed by the change in plans. He is an MFA candidate, but he is also an experienced teacher and reader.

And so, Lauren stepped to the front of the small audience and read out the three names of the alumni who died.

Joseph Maggitti, B.S. ‘75

Seamus Oneal, M.S. ‘97

Karen Seymour, B.S. ‘81

Then, she introduced the poet.

Ron spoke with a commanding, reverent voice. The piece began with the attacks themselves, and then moved to bigger themes: how easily things are destroyed, and how vital it is we remember. As Ron reads, some passersby stopped to listen, and the square grew quieter beneath the hum of traffic. The poem finished with the lines:

never forget

for one more morning

who we are

and whose we are

to honor

to protect

to cherish

to love

Scattered applause echoed from the not only from audience, but from further corners of the plaza.

Lauren returned to the front for a collective moment of silence. Then, the audience was invited to write messages on the blank rocks, then place them beneath the memorial plaque, to join the pile of stone messages from the earlier observance. Gradually, people made their way over to pick up the rocks and sit along the wall, lost in their own thoughts. Then, each added their message to the pile, eyes lingering on the names of the victims.