He may not look like an elder statesman, but Jonathan Lindsay has been with Bridges almost since the beginning.
Mr. Lindsay was a teacher at Coldstream Park Elementary back when Bridges was called the Coldstream Park Project and bused a few dozen kids to St. Paul’s School each summer. The Coldstream principal asked if he’d be interested in going with his students, and ever since he has been spending the academic years teaching in a city public school and the summers teaching at Bridges. For the past 16 years, he and the program have grown up together.
In the early days, Mr. Lindsay recalls, the focus was on stemming the tide of summer learning loss that occurs when students don’t have enough academic stimulation. He appreciated the resources, the small class sizes and the long creative leash that allowed him to make his own curriculum. He helped create field trips – to the ocean, to museums, to state parks – to broaden students’ horizons. “We showed them that the world is bigger than your six-‐block radius from school to home,” he says.
Today, Bridges has expanded to serve 155 students from elementary through high school, and it aims to be far more comprehensive. “There’s this goal of enriching the lives of kids and families that work with us, helping kids to develop personal goals that will carry them into a successful life,” says Mr. Lindsay, who is 40 and lives in Parkville with his wife and 13-‐year-‐old son, Jonathan Jr. He likes how the program stays involved with students for many years now. At one time, after children finished fifth grade, “we lost contact and never saw them again unless it was by chance. In my case I’d see younger brothers and sisters as I’d teach in years to come.”
Known for his mellow demeanor, Mr. Lindsay is the person his colleagues at Bridges can always call to talk shop and get a thoughtful response. He is someone many students look to as a moral authority and a trusted source of guidance and support for families. Mr. Lindsay made a lasting impression on Stephon Dingle, a college senior who was in his class at Bridges the summer going into fifth grade. “I always sat in the front of the class,” Stephon recalls. “There used to be kids in the middle or back of the room talking. I remember he used me as an example. He moved me to the back of the class and I was so upset… but eventually I understood what he was talking about. It was these life lessons I didn’t realize would have an effect on me.”
Another time, Mr. Lindsay called Stephon out for coming to gym class out of uniform. “It was the lesson of, ‘you’re not going to be an exception. You’ve got to follow the rules and be on point. Work hard, have a good attitude, and you’ll get rewarded.’ What he emphasized was you won’t always get the rewards you think you’ll get. I look at it now and it’s, like, genius.”
A native of West Baltimore and a graduate of Baltimore City College, Mr. Lindsay has long enjoyed working with children. Growing up, he volunteered at the summer recreation center in his neighborhood. During his senior year at City, he signed up to do a practicum at Waverly Elementary School because he wanted a lighter class load. When his mentoring teacher saw how well he interacted with the youngsters, she told him he was destined to be an educator. “She started giving me more responsibility to the point where the principal … actually had me stay and substitute a class as a 17-‐year-‐ old,” he recalls. “I don’t know if I exhibited that much maturity, but I like kids and kids like me.”
Mr. Lindsay attended St. Mary’s College of Maryland, majoring in anthropology. Upon graduation, he found himself at a crossroads. “I got into grad school, I got into the Peace Corps, and I just didn’t know what I was gonna do,” he says. “I got into this program called Teach for America, and the rest is history.”
It was 1992, the spring of the South Central riots in Los Angeles. Teach for America, then a very new organization, was holding its summer institute there to train bright college graduates to go into high-‐ need public schools.
Before heading out to California, Mr. Lindsay spent six weeks working as a substitute in Baltimore. “People would always say, ‘How did you do that? No substitute has ever been able to come in and get the class under control like that,’” he says.
His one misstep was at Coldstream Park Elementary. He gave a kindergarten class glue for an art project, only to turn around and finding the children eating it. “I didn’t know that little kids ate glue,” he says. Nevertheless, the Coldstream principal wanted Mr. Lindsay on her staff and requested that he be placed at her school upon his return from the institute. While he never taught kindergarten again, he spent 10 years at Coldstream, a placement that positioned him to be a part of the partnership with St. Paul’s.
Now in his 20th year of teaching in Baltimore public schools, Mr. Lindsay has been at Woodhome Elementary/Middle for the past decade in various positions, currently fourth grade. He continues to teach fourth-‐grade math at Bridges.
“He goes out of his way to help families,” says Margaret McCarty, a grandmother who knew Mr. Lindsay as a friend of her son and teacher of her two grandsons before her granddaughter Shionna enrolled in Bridges. Shionna, 14, spent six years in the program and now attends Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.
“When she went to Bridges, I knew he was there to guide her in the right direction,” Ms. McCarty says of Mr. Lindsay. “He encouraged her and assisted her and not only that, he’d call the family and see if there was anything he might do to help us. I’m raising my granddaughter, and we needed a lot of assistance. I wasn’t always able to purchase the things she needed, and he was always there giving advice.”