(Photo by Stephen Babcock)
At Lakeland Elementary/Middle School, seventh-graders Steven Hernandez and Jason Ochoa are already part of an after-school club that gives old computers new life.
“Usually they’re in a storage closet somewhere or people donate them to us,” Ochoa said of the computers.
There’s also a robotics club, and the school will play host to a regional tournament this weekend.
Over the next year, the school is getting upgrades that will likely delight both groups. New funding, facilities and programming is set to expand on what’s already happening at the Southwest Baltimore school, and extend its reach out into the community.
As part of a partnership between Baltimore City Schools, UMBC and the Northrop Grumman Foundation, the 9,000-square-foot rec center attached to the school is set to become a STEAM center over the next year. Along with facility upgrades, Northrop Grumman is leading the effort to install two science labs, a makerspace with 3D printers and other tools, a digital and video sound studio and a community kitchen.
The funding was announced at the school Thursday at an event attended by officials including Northrop Grumman Chief Operating Officer Gloria Flach, Congressmen John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski and Baltimore City Schools CEO Gregory Thornton.
Along with providing space for students both during and after school, the rec center will also offer professional development for teachers and programs for community members, whether it’s technology training or nutrition classes in the kitchen.
Over the last three years, UMBC has already partnered with Lakeland on STEM education through the Sherman STEM Teacher Scholars Program. With the new center, those efforts are expected to expand both for students and the wider community, and Northrop Grumman will also look to involve employees who volunteer in the community.
“This center will not only feature learning tools for our students, but it will include wraparound services,” said Flach, the Northrop Grumman COO, who pointed out that Northrop Grumman already sponsors the Lakeland food pantry.
“Knowing that students are with us for a limited amount of hours and that it can’t stop at Lakeland at 3 p.m., it gives us an opportunity to transform the learning that can happen,” said Lakeland Principal Najib Jammal. With the additional outreach, he said, it can also transform the community.
Rep. Sarbanes said Northrop Grumman is “extremely careful” about the organizations with which it forges partnerships. Flach said she immediately saw “the excitement that was here and the commitment of the leadership here.” The school has also made recent strides in performance.
“When we first met, you had me at hello,” Flach said to Jammal.
The principal described a unique, close-knit community within the city, where one-third of the school’s population are taking ESL classes. This was just the latest visit from dignitaries, as outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited in late December.
For Northrop Grumman, a giant defense and aerospace contractor which has 10,000 employees in Maryland, the community-focused nature of the partnership is part of a mission to empower communities.
But another big piece of the company’s overall focus of such initiatives is STEM education. Along with making sure they have engineers to hire, there’s a broader concern about the U.S. stacking up against the rest of the world that was voiced in each of the officials’ remarks. Rep. Ruppersberger spoke of the importance of identifying children who had an aptitude for STEM at a young age. Hrabowski, the UMBC president, talked about the need to believe that students from any background could compete with the best in the world.
“If we’re not able to able to draw up a substantial and growing infusion of that expertise, the leadership position of our nation is at risk,” said Flach, the Northrop Grumman COO. “And so a critical step in doing that is to ensure that we’ve got a diverse STEM pipeline. That is a part of the outcome of this overall partnership.”
The officials gathered on Thursday had an idea for a pipeline: from Lakeland through the secondary schools, to UMBC for college, and perhaps eventually to a job at Northrop Grumman.
Despite potentially violating the biases in the room, there was tacit acknowledgement that the concept could be applied with other schools and businesses. Hrabowski reminded those gathered that such partnerships take hard work, comparing them to a marriage. But, after observing what gets funded nationwide as chair of the President’s Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, he said he sees promise.
“If we can have models that we can document that work, we can make a big difference,” said Hrabowski.
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