Under the leadership of Joseph Manko, Liberty Elementary School #64 located on Maine Avenue in Northwest Baltimore has received an estimated $6 million dollars in grant money to support students, staff and the community. Quite an amazing accomplishment given the fact that Manko and his staff have been able to do it without a paid professional grant writer.
“Because of our experience here, and because we love the kids, we can write grants from the heart in a way that a paid grant writer might not capture,” said Manko. “Those are our credentials. We don’t have the professional grant writing expertise, but we counteract that with our relationship with the kids and the community.”
According to Manko, approximately 500 students attend the school.
“We are always trying to look for ways to expand opportunities for our students,” said Manko. “We have been fortunate to receive a lot of grants and are in contact with organizations that help us to do that. We have the largest field trip program in Baltimore. Last year, we took our kids on 93 field trips. A lot of those trips were grant-supported. The Baltimore Museum of Art scheduled 12 trips for our fourth-grade students to go to the museum and study art.
“We also have a grant through Pearlstone, which is an organic Jewish farm in Westminster. The kids go there three times a year to learn about farming, and in the spring, they prepare a full harvest meal. This is a unique experience for urban kids who don’t have a lot of experience in gardening.”
Manko talked about the school’s many grant awards and the services they provide.
“We receive a yearly $250,000 Community Schools Grant through the Family League of Baltimore,” he said. “That grant allows us to provide after-school programming for 135 students. The children receive hours of additional academics, and also get to select enrichment activities they are passionate about such as Cub Scouts, drama, art, and karate.
“Another large grant is a $300,000 yearly grant from a lot of different sources who have pulled together to support a Judy Center program to support early learning. It provides activities and programming for kids even before they step foot in the school door. By the time they get here, they are already advanced. Though this program, we also offer parenting and GED classes and parent support groups.”
Judy Centers serve children, birth through age five and their families in an effort to increase the number of children entering school ready to learn.
According to Manko, the Liberty Judy Center program also hosts an annual Community Baby Shower.
“We invite new parents in the community to participate, and then we connect them to the program we have in the Judy Center,” said Manko.
Manko also talked about programs supported by some of the school’s smaller grants.
“The last five years, we have written a $50,000 grant through the Summer Funding Collaborative,” he said. “This year, that collaborative supported a five-week summer camp at zero cost to families.”
According to Manko, grant awards have made it possible for the school to offers its student an iPad or Chromebook; hire additional social workers; and offer trauma counseling. The school also oversees Liberty Recreation Center, which offers space and a variety of programs to the community. Other offerings include a community food pantry and produce drop program.
“Ms. Gomez works with the pantry team to let parents know about it,” said Manko referring to PTO President Juliette Gomez. “We also have a wonderful partnership with the Maryland Food Bank. We give away 16,000 pounds of food a month.”
Ursula V. Battle
Manko has served as principal of Liberty Elementary for 10 years, and has worked in education for 18 years.
“Funders want to make investment in longevity and stability,” he said. “We have a track record of success, and people are willing to support our initiatives.”
However, Manko was quick to point out that he shouldn’t be credited with the school’s grant success. He highlighted the efforts of many, including Assistant Principal Sarah Krauss.
“My only role is to empower the staff,” he said. “They will ask if it’s something they can do, and I say ‘yes.’ They care a lot about getting as much as we can for our students to help their learning. We also have a very active PTO.
“We want to provide our kids with the same opportunities kids in elite, prestigious Maryland schools would get. Rather than putting up our hands and saying, ‘that’s impossible,’ we look at the barriers that prevent us from reaching those goals, and move or work around those barriers. Our kids deserve the best.”
PTO President Gomez says Manko gets an ‘A+’ grade in her book.
“My granddaughter goes there, and I wanted to be involved,” she said. “Mr. Manko is so humble and is never too busy to hear what even the smallest person has to say. He even rolls up his sleeves and picks up the trash. Liberty is very blessed to have Mr. Manko.”