- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 26, 2005

BALTIMORE — When directors Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing decided to make a documentary about a program that sends public school boys to Kenya to help resolve their behavioral problems, the women had no idea the year they filmed would be the last.

The Baraka School program was established in 1996 by the Abell Foundation to provide a challenging and rewarding environment for middle-school boys with behavioral problems.

President Robert Embry said principals told him they could be more successful if the 5 percent to 10 percent of boys who caused the most trouble were removed from the schools.

The school accepted 20 boys a year, sending them to Kenya for a two-year program with round-the-clock supervision and the personal attention from teachers that was needed to unlock their potential.

However, security concerns following the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi led the foundation to close the school, putting the boys back in the city school system.

For some of the boys, a year at Baraka was sufficient to get them on the right track.

Devon Brown said he was “heartbroken” upon learning he would not return. “But one year was enough to have an impact on my life,” he said. “I used what I learned that year.”

He is now a sophomore at the Academy for College and Career Exploration in Baltimore and an aspiring actor and youth minister. Montrey Moore, a class clown turned math scholar, won a scholarship to the Piney Woods School in Mississippi.

But other boys needed more time, and they predict in the film, titled “The Boys of Baraka,” that without the opportunity to return their lives would take a turn for the worse.

The documentary has spurred city officials to try to recreate the boarding school environment closer to home.

“I think there really is a need, and tremendous opportunities that would come from creating a boarding school in Baltimore,” said Mayor Martin O’Malley.

He has spoken with leaders of the SEED Foundation, which has run a school in the District for seven years. Its first two graduating classes had a 100 percent college-acceptance rate.

The film, which was recently selected for Oscar consideration, shows how the school brings out the intelligence of kids who previously demonstrated little interest in academics.

“It was incredibly exciting and surprising,” Miss Grady said.

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