Dreaming Big at John Eager Howard

Over 80 people represented the John Eager Howard family at the October 15th Visioning Meeting.

Over 80 people represented the John Eager Howard family at the October 15th Visioning Meeting.

John Eager Howard Elementary School is slated for a “Year 1” renovation or rebuild in Baltimore City Public School System’s 10 year plan. Baltimore City’s school buildings are falling apart and are in need of $2.4 billion in school construction funding–at previous funding levels it would have taken over 40 years to bring Baltimore’s buildings up to the standards that our students deserve. Last year, due to Baltimore Education Coalition’s years of grassroots organizing work, Baltimore won $1 billion and now is in the position to complete the first phase of BCPS’ 10-year plan.

As a Year 1 school, this is a true watershed moment for all of the John Eager Howard’s families, for the neighborhood, and for all potential future families. The opportunity here lies not only in the 21st Century school could be, but also in the process. Over the past six months, Reservoir Hill Improvement Council, working in close partnership with John Eager Howard and Child First Authority, has built a design team of parents, students, neighbors and partners to think critically about the process and to develop strategies ensuring we make the most of this moment. This Team has spoken with over 200 stakeholders and listened as people shared what they value and believe about education and their neighborhood school.

Participants were asked to use fake money of varying denominations to vote for spaces they most preferred.

Participants were asked to use fake money of varying denominations to vote for spaces they most preferred.

This team holds that the beliefs and values of the school community must be known before designing the school, and in order truly know those, the process must both encompass a wide breadth of stakeholders and deeply engage families at all points. Through this process, school design will lead to neighborhood transformation and the future building will be a space that all neighbors and potential families own.

Some of the over arching themes we’ve heard so far are:

  • School should be an oasis in the community that represents a calm retreat.

  • John Eager Howard is a family and the building should create a space where everyone feels that they– students, teachers, parents, neighbors– belong and are supported.
  • No two students are the same — each has ability to realize his/her true potential and need exposure to spaces that maximize academic achievement — real science lab, music room, art studio, etc.

  • Students values spaces that meet their holistic needs (academic, emotional, social, physical, mental, creative) with an emphasis on creative and physical spaces in addition to untraditional-school spaces such as movies, game room, fun room.

Our Visioning Meeting was an exciting opportunity to get feedback on the themes drawn out of those 200 conversations and to take a next step in our design process– getting an idea of how those values can apply to spaces. Our architects are now working closely with the Design Team in order to apply all this information to Educational Specifications and a Feasibility Study of the site. These will then be shared with and evaluated by the community at another large Visioning Meeting, to take place before Thanksgiving, before being submitted for final approval.

Stay tuned to learn about the next JEH Visioning Meeting!