When the City of Baltimore chose to permanently close several recreation centers around town at the beginning of summer 2012, Liberty Recreation Center found itself on the chopping block.
But over the last year, a partnership of organizations stepped up to keep open what has been rechristened the Liberty Rec and Tech Center. Among them were the Howard Park and Central Forest Park community associations and Liberty Elementary School, to which the Liberty rec center is physically attached. After-school programs at the rec center took place this past summer and continue into the fall, thanks to funding from the Family League of Baltimore.
In addition, the Digital Harbor Foundation has been lending support by helping to organize and guide five after-school tech clubs for 120 Liberty Elementary students in the school’s extended-day program. The Federal Hill-based nonprofit focuses on STEM education for elementary and high school students.
“It’s fairly spectacular, what’s going on,” said Joseph Manko, principal of Liberty Elementary School, which teaches students as young as three years old in Head Start programs through the 5th grade. “The communities are wrapping their arms around centers that were jettisoned by the city.”
From 6 to 8 tonight, the Liberty Rec and Tech Center hosts a free open house for all interested in touring the facility. RSVP here.
Inside the new Liberty Rec and Tech Center are:
- a multi-purpose room, sometimes rented out to fund rec center programming, but also used for Parent University classes, where 15 parents learn childcare skills with instruction by a professor from the Johns Hopkins University.
- a fitness room that doubles as the marching band practice space.
- an art room, where sewing and ceramics classes take place.
Manko said the Liberty rec center is open to the surrounding neighborhood, and used often by families that live in the immediate area. But the crown jewel of the refurbished rec center is the tech center, a space used by 120 students in after-school tech clubs on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.
- Outfitted with donated desktop computers and office furniture, the tech room — as well as the entirety of the rec center — is also equipped with free wireless Internet installed by the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology.
- A Digital Harbor Foundation employee staffs the tech center from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
- Nonprofit Code in the Schools teaches students video game design and programming from the center.
- The remaining tech clubs — on web design, video editing, digital music and robotics — are all administered by Liberty teachers who were members of the Digital Harbor Foundation’s 2012 EdTech summer fellowship.
The four other tech clubs make use of Liberty’s 210 iPads. By the end of December, Manko expects to have 330 iPads for Liberty’s 418 students, which will make Liberty Baltimore’s first one-to-one school. But even students not participating in after-school tech clubs manage to get some time with an iPad.
“Every child from 1st grade to 5th grade uses the iPad every day for at least one hour,” said Manko, a Los Angeles native who came to Baltimore by way of Teach for America. He’s now in his fourth year as principal of Liberty Elementary School.
It’s no small feat for a school that is the 10th-highest performing school of 158 Baltimore city schools, even though 93 percent of students live below the poverty line and receive free or reduced-price meals.
Eventually Manko wants to purchase laptops and a cart for Liberty, as well as a 3D printer for the tech center. For now, though, he’s satisfied with the progress.
“We’re finally at the point where we’re pretty excited with what we’re doing,” he said.