Aca­demic pro­gram ex­pands in Bal­ti­more

James McHenry school to be­come part of The In­ge­nu­ity Pro­ject

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Talia Rich­man

Lisette Morris froze when she saw a map show­ing where spe­cial aca­demic pro­grams for city school­child­ren were lo­cated. Wide swaths of West Bal­ti­more were bar­ren.

“That re­ally lit a fire for us,” she said. Morris runs The In­ge­nu­ity Pro­ject, an ad­vanced math and sci­ence pro­gram that’s op­er­ated in Bal­ti­more since 1992. Its schools, which in­clude Bal­ti­more Polytech­nic In­sti­tute and Roland Park Ele­men­tary/Mid­dle, have been mostly con­cen­trated in North Bal­ti­more, in more af­flu­ent parts of the city.

The non­profit hopes to change that, with plans to ex­pand to James McHenry Ele­men­tary/Mid­dle in the Hollins Mar­ket neigh­bor­hood next school year.

Just a few years ago, James McHenry was viewed as one of the worst schools in the state. Few stu­dents passed stan­dard­ized tests, and fam­i­lies were flee­ing to other schools. Then in 2017, the school was ap­proved by the state as a “turn­around”

pro­gram. Nearly all its teach­ers were fired, a new prin­ci­pal and other ed­u­ca­tors were brought in and the school has em­braced a new mis­sion: Build a place of ex­cel­lence.

Now, some of the stu­dents who once lan­guished in James McHenry class­rooms will have ac­cess to ac­cel­er­ated STEM cur­ricu­lum through In­ge­nu­ity, which aims to launch the next gen­er­a­tion of com­pet­i­tive sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math lead­ers. They’ll be set on a path that’s taken stu­dents at other Bal­ti­more In­ge­nu­ity schools to Har­vard, Yale and the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy.

“We have ta­lent across the city,” Morris said. “Stu­dents just need the op­por­tu­nity to be with this rig­or­ous cur­ricu­lum and then the sky’s the limit.”

In­ge­nu­ity op­er­ates in three mid­dle schools: Roland Park, Hamil­ton and Mount Royal. Bal­ti­more Polytech­nic In­sti­tute is its only high school. Morris said James McHenry was the first new ad­di­tion in a decade, and beat out more than a dozen other schools that ap­plied. It will help the pro­gram grow to serve more than 800 stu­dents by the 2020-2021 school year, up from around 600 now.

As James McHenry pre­pares to wel­come The In­ge­nu­ity Pro­ject, the non­profit is in the midst of im­ple­ment­ing its 2020 strate­gic plan. At its heart is the need to bring in more di­verse stu­dents and bet­ter re­flect the city’s pop­u­la­tion. Last school year, roughly 44 per­cent of In­ge­nu­ity stu­dents were African-Amer­i­can and about 5 per­cent were His­panic. Across the dis­trict, nearly 80 per­cent of stu­dents are black and 11 per­cent are His­panic or Latino.

McHenry Prin­ci­pal Christophe Turk said his school’s se­lec­tion as the next In­ge­nu­ity site is big­ger than the thou­sands of dol­lars’ worth of new text­books, teach­ers, sci­en­tific equip­ment and other re­sources the pro­gram will bring to 31 S. Schroeder St. It sends a mes­sage that the city be­lieves in kids from the Hollins Mar­ket neigh­bor­hood, which has far more vi­o­lent crime and far fewer jobs than in the city as a whole.

“This is about say­ing West Bal­ti­more mat­ters,” Turk said. “And the stu­dents and fam­i­lies here should be able to ac­cess flag­ship pro­gram­ming.”

Like the other In­ge­nu­ity schools, James McHenry will draw sixth-grade stu­dents from around the city to fill its in­au­gu­ral 50 seats. The school is host­ing a num­ber of open houses to help spread the word. The In­ge­nu­ity Pro­ject is tar­get­ing stu­dents from about 15 ele­men­tary schools, al­most all of them Ti­tle I pro­grams — nearly all of them serv­ing low-in­come pop­u­la­tions — in nearby ZIP codes.

Though the pro­gram won’t roll out un­til the next school year, there’s al­ready a sense of ex­cite­ment around it at James McHenry. WhenTurk got the news that his school had been cho­sen, he gath­ered the stu­dents in the cafe­te­ria. “We did that,” they chanted in uni­son.

Stu­dents, even those who will grad­u­ate from James McHenry be­fore In­ge­nu­ity launches, say the pro­gram means peo­ple will be forced to quit un­der­es­ti­mat­ing kids from their neigh­bor­hood. Many are ex­cited for their younger sib­lings or cousins to en­roll. They see In­ge­nu­ity as the first step on a promis­ing path: It will help more James McHenry kids get into se­lec­tive high schools, which will help them get into es­teemed col­leges, which will set them up for a suc­cess­ful life. They’ll also gain en­try to a strong alumni net­work.

In fact, an In­ge­nu­ity se­nior at Poly was re­cently named a semi­fi­nal­ist in the na­tion’s most pres­ti­gious high school sci­ence com­pe­ti­tion. The Re­gen­eron Sci­ence Ta­lent Search re­ceived more than 1,900 en­tries, and Michelle Mokaya placed among the top 300.

James McHenry has been around for decades, said eighth-grader Naza­iah John­son, but too often its grad­u­ates are sucked into the trou­bles of life in Bal­ti­more. Ac­cess to spe­cial learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, he said, could help “break the chain” of vi­o­lence that stu­dents know too well.

“With this In­ge­nu­ity pro­gram, I hope we bring oth­ers here and boost up our rep­u­ta­tion,” said Naza­iah, 13, who hopes to study physics at Ox­ford. “We’re let­ting ev­ery­one know our name.”

Amiya Thomp­son, 13, said that just be­cause she at­tends school in a cer­tain area of the city doesn’t mean she has to abide by ex­pec­ta­tions set by out­siders.

“You can go above,” she said, and par­tic­i­pat­ing in In­ge­nu­ity is a way to do that.

Morris said they’re work­ing hard to ex­pand ac­cess for chil­dren of color, who are un­der­rep­re­sented na­tion­ally in ad­vanced learn­ing pro­grams. They’ve stream­lined the ap­pli­ca­tion, hired a full-time re­cruiter and trans­lated In­ge­nu­ity ma­te­ri­als into Span­ish.

“We should rep­re­sent the city,” she said.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

From left, Maken­zie Peo­ples, 13, Naza­iah John­son, 13, and Saniya Abrims, 12, dis­cuss the In­ge­nu­ity Pro­ject, which is ex­pand­ing to James McHenry Ele­men­tary/Mid­dle School.

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