Belonging, Connection, Opportunity, Safety
In winter 2013, 3,000 Baltimore City parents, students, teachers, and neighbors stood together in Annapolis demanding better school buildings for our children. John Eager Howard, working with Child First Authority and RHIC, brought 80 people--the third highest turnout from across the city--for the February Rally.
Baltimore City Public School buildings were facing a $2.4 billion deficit, with 85% of public schools in poor condition-- John Eager Howard alone was assessed at needing $14-16 million in renovation and repair costs. In April, the Baltimore Education Coalition and Transform Baltimore's hard work paid off when the state approved the $1 billion school construction bill. The Baltimore Education Coalition is a city-wide grassroots partnership of over 25 organizations, including RHIC, Child First Authority, and the ACLU, united by a mission and vision for public education in Baltimore City. Over the past three years, these groups have prioritized city school construction funding and worked to bring a plan to fruition for Baltimore City.
This school construction bill will fund the first 2-3 years of BCPS' 10 year plan to fully renovate and rebuild all Baltimore City schools. Within BCPS 10 year plan, JEH is set for a "Year 1 Renovation with Possible Addition or Replace". More information about the recommendation, as well as the initial study of the buildings' current state can be found here (scroll down the alphabetized list of city schools until you reach "John Eager Howard Elementary School").
We began our school design process in April 2013, building on years of relationship development by John Eager Howard Elementary (JEH), Reservoir Hill Improvement Council (RHIC) and Child First Authority (CFA) in the neighborhood and within the school. In July 2013, CFA, John Eager Howard, and RHIC created the Design Advisory and Action Team in partnership with the DRU Judy Center and Beth Am Synagogue to lead the process of school design in a coordinated and collaborative way. The goal of the team is to ensure that the John Eager Howard school redesign meets the needs of John Eager Howard students and maximizes community engagement, so that the future school building reflects the values of all current and potential parents, teachers, and students who will use the school (including those coming from Westside Elementary School) as well as neighbors and partners in Reservoir Hill. The team includes the school Principal, school staff, parents, residents, and community partners.
Over the past 11 months, we have listened to over 400 people through individual, small group, and community-wide meetings in order to understand what is most important to people when it comes to education, the neighborhood, and the new school building. These conversations occurred in three phases: understanding the school community’s values regarding education, aligning the John Eager Howard Educational Specifications with these values, and assessing how well each of the three feasibility study schemes presented by Cho Benn Holback articulated the values. Throughout these meetings, our team sought to reach a deep understanding of a wide breadth of the community; we spoke with:
- 77 families of current JEH students
- 38 families of current Westside students
- 40 staff at JEH including teachers, support staff, and administrators
- 18 staff at Westside
- 81 people from 9 organizations that serve children, families or the broader community in Reservoir Hill
- 91 Reservoir Hill residents without children at JEH
- 56 current JEH students
The process also included visits to other 21st Century Schools, including Stoddert Elementary School in Washington, D.C. and the City Neighbors Hamilton campus in Baltimore, to learn how they integrated their own values into their school buildings. There we saw examples of how each school building integrated the values of community, sustainability, recreation, individualized academic supports, and deep connection. These visits, and seeing 3-dimensionally the ways in which design concepts play out, proved to be especially valuable as we worked to apply our own values to our future building.