Jonna McKone


Jonna covers education, youth and housing for WYPR. She's also a documentarian, media artist and educator. Her feature stories have aired on NPR, WAMU, Marketplace, The World, Living on Earth, and Virginia Public Radio, among others. A Maryland native, Jonna is a graduate of Bowdoin College and holds an MFA from Duke University.

Ways to Connect

Twelve-year-old Mannie Thames knows a lot of kids with BB guns. He says kids have them for safety and because they're cool.

"Sometimes people get bullied a lot, and they want to have something to protect their self," Thames says. "And sometimes people think it's cool, they want to shoot people for fun."

He explains this in between bites of snacks at the after-school center, Penn North Kids Safe Zone, in West Baltimore.

Replica guns that shoot BBs and other projectiles are popular with kids. But in some settings, they pose a special danger.

21st Century Schools Building Program

Baltimore’s school system has embarked on an ambitious project to renovate, replace and combine dozens of the oldest schools in the state over the next four years.   

The $1 billion effort aims to shutter and combine dozens of schools and renovate or replace at least 23 – all by the spring of 2021.  

A 2012 report by the Jacobs Project Management Company, a consulting firm, found that 85 percent, or 138 of the schools are in “poor” or “very poor” condition.

A power issue at Baltimore City schools headquarters on North Avenue has knocked the system’s web site off line and snarled some plans for final exams.  

School employees, who wouldn’t give their names, say some teachers can’t get into the online tools they need to administer finals and two teachers said there were delays in administering Maryland’s High School Assessments or HSAs due to internet issues.

Headquarters school employees say the power went out at about noon yesterday, forcing them to evacuate the building through dark stairwells without the aid of an intercom system or emergency lighting.

Inner Harbor Project

There was a time when groups of loud teens hanging out at the Inner Harbor were seen as creating problems, a lot of arrests for disorderly conduct, which was a concern especially for tourists.  But that has changed since the Inner Harbor Project began hiring youth to work as part of a street team and bridge the gap with adults and other people who use the space.

Friday morning the organization unveiled its latest effort, a set of public teen-designed guidelines.

“We’re standing near the amphitheater. And we have just installed our new heart as of this morning,” explains Diamond Sampson, a 19 year old employee of the Inner Harbor Project.

Gwendolyn Glenn

The long-serving president of the Baltimore Teacher’s Union, Marietta English, withstood her first serious election challenge in years yesterday from Kimberly Mooney, a teacher and union representative. The unofficial results were English winning by about 180 votes out of more than 1,200 votes cast.

Mooney’s campaign focused on issues like teacher retention, reforming evaluations and building greater transparency. But others in the 6,000 member union felt the most recent contract English negotiated was a strong one and that those who are disgruntled should simply get more involved.




This spring every third grader in the city received a colorful, graphic textbook thanks to the work of graphic designer and educator Becky Slogeris.     

On a rainy day, Ms. Heather Tuttle’s third grade social studies classroom at Lake Montebello Elementary in Northeast Baltimore, reads from a book written just for Baltimore City kids.


"Jane Jacobs was a writer and thinker about cities," Tawnaja Hilton reads. "Jane did not learn about cities from books or schools. Instead she learned about cities by watching people use them in every li- in everyday life."


The students in groups. They all have their own copies of My Baltimore Book . It’s about the size of a short novel -- A mix between a textbook, journal and photobook.


Liz Phillips// Flickr Creative Commons


The Daisy pellet gun 14-year-old Dedric Colvin was carrying when he was shot by police last week looks just like a real Beretta automatic pistol, which has led many to wonder why a youngster would have such a gun.

At a press conference the day after the shooting, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the gun in Colvin’s hand so closely resembled a real one you’d have to look down the barrel to know difference. And he wondered, "what is a 13-year-old doing with one of these in his hand?"

12 year old Mannie Thames had an answer: "I think it’s a cool, and I think he kind of cool…"

He's talking about a neighborhood friend who has a BB gun. He says his friend has it because that’s what he’s seen people do on the streets. And Mannie has had a few BB guns of his own over the years too. He says a lot of people want them: 

"Sometimes people get bullied a lot, and they want to have something to protect theirself.  And sometimes people think it’s cool and they want to shoot people for fun."


Jonna McKone

There's been a lot of attention focused on Baltimore's youth in the year since Freddie Gray died. And much of that spotlight has been on Frederick Douglass High School. Images of dozens of Douglass students throwing rocks and bottles were captured on TV as protests turned violent the day of Gray's funeral.

Jonna McKone

Public universities that serve low income students have struggled for years with low graduation rates.  Historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, including those in Maryland, face this problem especially acutely.

Three Coppin State University students, all in their mid-twenties, sit in their student union talking about the challenges of working toward a bachelor’s degree. 

"My name is William Lessane. I am 27 years old. Technically at Coppin I’m a sophomore but right on the cusp of being a junior. I am from Baltimore City, Park Heights - West Baltimore area. To be honest with you, I’ve been in college for 10 years on and off. I’ve struggled in trying to achieve the associate’s degree. Now, I’m finding new struggles in trying to achieve the bachelor’s degree."

Jonna McKone

If there’s one thing all the Democrats running to be Baltimore’s next mayor agree on, it’s universal pre-k.