Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : November 2007

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One of the deadliest fires in Baltimore’s history ripped through a Cecil Avenue townhouse in the early morning hours of Tuesday, May 22, 2007. Firefighters arrived just before 7:25 a.m., but it was already too late for many in that house. Seven year old MarQuis Ellis, a second grader at Highlandtown Elementary school, died in that fire.

“He wasn’t where he was supposed to be,” chides Anthony “Bubba” Green. “If his mother knew how important it was for him to come to school everyday, this never would have happened.”

Green speaks about this incident with a lot of passion because Ellis was a participant of the Truancy Court Program (TCP), an early intervention system for truant students in Baltimore City Public Schools. Green, the program’s full-time mentor coordinator and a former defensive lineman for the Baltimore Colts, had started the process with Ellis but, “it was slow coming,” and now the mentor was out of time. Though only addressing truancy in the school system, the program stresses its importance.

“If you drop the ball, you could be dropping a life,” laments Green.

Created by the University of Baltimore School of Law’s Center for Families, Children and the Courts in 2005, the TCP goes into the schools after they are contacted about students who have missed anywhere from 9-15 days. Then Green, along with a TCP Coordinator, a Student Fellow and a volunteer Baltimore City Judge, meets with the 15-20 truant students for 10 weeks. The goal is to reach the kids early (elementary or middle school) so that their truant patterns do not persist and lead them to the dark avenues of Baltimore City.

“If a child is going to school, he might not be paying attention, but at least he is in a safe haven,” said Green. “If we can get him to school then maybe he can connect with somebody, and that’s the mentoring piece. We all had an opportunity to connect with somebody in school. It might have been a teacher, a principal, [or] a coach, [but] they kind of mentored us along the way.”

TCP currently operates in six elementary/middle schools, including Highlandtown, Calverton and Barclay, among others. Their holistic approach allows the program to address many different situations.

“The problems we see stem from social problems, not just problems from families or schools,” said Barbara Babb, Director of the Center for Families, Children and the Courts. “Our problems are much larger than all of that.”

“We have to be ready for whatever,” Green continued, “because we don’t always know what’s coming our way as far as the issues these kids are dealing with.” He pointed out that drugs and gangs are regularly shoved in these kids’ faces by not only their peers, but sometimes their parents as well.

The main objective of Green’s program is to build a rapport with the kids. He admits that these kids have to deal with issues and scenarios that he never came across in his youth, so sports becomes the common denominator between the two generations. “They understand those examples,” said the 50-year-old mentor.

In describing the program to the kids for the first time, Green eases into a nostalgic era when there were no bumpers on bowling lanes to guide the ball to the pins. “We are just those bumpers, keeping you back in the lane, on the path of success,” he tells the kids. “We are just trying to keep you out of the gutter.”

Midway through the program, Green reminds the students that this is voluntary and that after the 10 weeks, they are on their own. He continues: “Let’s act like we are playing one-on-one basketball. It’s your ball, what are you going to do with it? You have to make a choice. We are going to give you what you need. We are going to give you character-building classes. We’re going to talk to you about issues, asking for help [and] having a well-balanced life. We are not going to allow you to give us any excuses.”

The parents are reminded that TCP is a team concept and their support is a major part of the plan. From his days as the offensive line coach at Morgan State University, Green had the five linemen say, in unison, “I will do my job.” This message is applicable to TCP.

“If we are on the same page, we can’t fail,” said Green.

 

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: November  2007