When school opened at Green Street Academy this fall, middle and high school students arrived for the first time at the new campus on Hilton Street.
Since the groundbreaking earlier this year, the former Gwynns Falls High School was readied to become a school again for the first time since the late 1980s.
At a ceremony to formally mark the opening of the school earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) recalled his days at the school, and how he marveled at the building.
The heart-of-pine wood floors and fire marshall-proof building remains intact. And after a $23 million renovation, the architecture now contains up-to-date technology like computers and projectors, breakout areas, desks and chairs that pivot and walls that students can write on.
Standing in a classroom where most of those elements are on display, Executive Director Daniel Schochor pointed out that the tools provide feedback — and change up the learning experience so classes don’t always include teachers talking at students.
“We generally think about casing and scope and sequence when we talk about curriculum,” said Schochor, who, like most of the school’s leadership team, was wearing a green tie for the occasion. “One thing we don’t talk about too much is what in the physical environment can help promote engaged, innovative learning. This furniture can, this floor can, these walls can.”
The space itself isn’t the only area that looks different from other schools.
The school’s curriculum allows students to take classes on Career Technical Education (CTE) tracks. In a Construction, Design and Management classroom, Schochor explained that students receive professional certification that can be put to use if they enter the field for career. There’s also a track in urban agriculture, and similar programs are coming next year in healthcare and advanced technologies.
Both the physical and cultural environments at the school work together to give students responsibility over their future.
“Letting them figure it out for themselves. Giving them options. Giving them control over their environment,” Schochor said. “It’s all a way for us to make them understand, they need to take ownership of this sooner or later, and they’ve really stepped up.”
As is the case with many openings, much of the school’s story remains yet to be written.
The courtyard doesn’t yet have a closed-loop ecosystem with hanging gardens and aquaculture like renderings showed. And programming that is designed to make the school a true anchor for West Baltimore is set to ramp up as the year goes on.
One of the centers of community activity will be in a library, where rows of computer workstations outnumber bookshelves. It’s where kids can get access to technology that will help them with their work after school. Eventually, administrators plan to open up the area to the community for access and education, as well.
In designing the building, the school’s leadership wanted to prepare for the fact that technology will keep evolving.
“Not only did we try to get this building ready for our learners now, but we have tried to build the capacity within the building to grow with technology for the coming years,” Schochor said.
The building itself has been around since 1925, and will likely continue to stand. But in its latest form, Green Street Academy wants to make sure what’s inside is equipped to help the entire surrounding community for years to come.
“The building is only as powerful and strong as the culture within it,” said cofounder David Warnock.