The Real Baltimore: What Lakeland Elementary School Students Had to Say About the Riots

Schools reopened across Baltimore today after tensions eased.

ByALEXANDRA KESSEL and MICHELLE MANZIONE
April 29, 2015, 8:04 PM
PHOTO: Students in Ms. Pingel's fifth grade class at Lakeland School in Baltimore show off their signs that read, "#TheRealBaltimore" in an image shared by Megan Pingel on April 29, 2015.
Students in Ms. Pingel's fifth grade class at Lakeland School in Baltimore show off their signs that read, "#TheRealBaltimore" in an image shared by Megan Pingel on April 29, 2015.
Ms Pingel/Teacher

— -- Schools reopened across Baltimore today after tensions eased around the city following the first night of a 10 p.m. curfew.

But for students at Lakeland Elementary/Middle School, class didn't resume as usual.

Ashley Smith, a teacher at the school, chose to have her class write down their reactions in regard to the chaos surrounding their city amid the riots following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a man who died after an unexplained spinal injury suffered in police custody.

“I knew the students would be coming into class today with a lot of questions about what had taken place,” Smith told ABC News. “They had heard a lot on TV, from their parents, from their friends. I wanted to provide them with the space to reflect on what they knew.”

One student wrote, “I think people should just protest instead of having a bad riot. Also, I think the police should give people a chance to talk before they hurt or kill people. ... We need answers before it gets any worse.”

And that’s coming from a fourth grader.

For this assignment, Smith started by having her students "look up the words riot and protest and discuss what they meant. They were given free space to write and tell us what they were thinking.”

“It was clear to them, immediately, that the two words [riot and protest] were not synonymous,” Smith said.

Smith really wanted to encourage open dialogue between her students in a healthy and conventional way, and was impressed with her students’ ability to write and speak about the events -- both peaceful and violent.

A fifth grade class at the same school also made their voices heard when their teacher, Megan Pingel, posted a photo of them on Twitter holding signs that say “#TheRealBaltimore” this afternoon.

Upset by the grim picture being painted of the city, Pingel had her students write down what they wanted the world to know about “the real Baltimore.”

“My kids didn't want the world to think that this is how all students are and act in Baltimore,” Pingel told ABC News. “They wanted the world to know, ‘Hey we’re good kids! We have a lot going for us and we will be the change this city needs.’”

Lakeland, a public school located in southwest Baltimore, has a large percentage of African American students. In addition, 84 percent of the total students identify as low income based on eligibility for free or reduced-price school meals.

“We like to highlight the positive things that happen at Baltimore city schools,” Smith said. "We do have good students. It’s not all our students who are making bad decisions as they leave school.”

In response to the relatively quiet night Tuesday, Dr. Gregory Thornton, the CEO of the Baltimore City Public Schools, released a message to students, families and the city schools community regarding schools reopening today.

“I want to first acknowledge and thank the thousands and thousands of students who made good decisions yesterday and avoided the violence and law-breaking,” said Thornton. “Many faced challenges, including difficult journeys home, and they did so with maturity and responsibility. We’re proud of you.”

However, as with Smith and Pingel’s classes, life in Baltimore is unlikely to return to normal anytime soon. The curfew is set to go back into effect at 10 p.m. tonight, and the Baltimore Orioles played to an empty stadium in the city today against the Chicago White Sox.

Despite the changes, students, teachers and families alike are trying to remain hopeful.

“I wanted them to think about the things that had taken place [on Monday in Baltimore] and develop their own thoughts and opinions,” Smith said.

Three classes of 25 students -- a total of 75 students -- wrote essays.

“Overall, it was a really positive day at Lakeland,” Pingel said. “We really made sure that we came together as one family; we are very much the type of school that is considered to be one family.”

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