Ravens give $1.5 million to renovate Renaissance Academy

The Baltimore Ravens football franchise is footing the bill for $1.5 million in renovations at Renaissance Academy High School after owner Steve Bisciotti was moved by stories of students overcoming tough obstacles and the devotion they showed to the school when officials threatened to shut it down.

Baltimore schools officials announced earlier this year that a private donor, whom they declined to name, had come forward with $1 million for Renaissance. The Ravens revealed this week that they were the donors and said they agreed to give an additional $500,000 after getting a better idea of the costs to renovate the school. Ravens executives said they believe revealing the team’s involvement would bring some positive attention to the school, located on McCulloh Street in West Baltimore

“We saw it as an opportunity to get involved and where the Ravens could make a difference,” said Richard W. Cass, the team’s president. Bisciotti, who read about Renaissance in The Baltimore Sun, declined to be interviewed for this article.

School system leaders last year had recommended closing the school, where in November 2015 a student stabbed a classmate who later died. Two months later, another student was killed in a shooting in a nearby apartment building.

The students’ passion for the school and the donation from the Ravens helped persuade school district administrators to keep Renaissance open.

Baltimore schools CEO Sonja Santelises said the renovations would bring aesthetic improvements and make it possible for the school to add more programs, including more technology classes to better prepare students to enter the workforce.

“This was an opportunity to really trigger a larger sort of reset for the school,” she said.

The renovation is scheduled to be completed by the start of the new school year. The building will have more private office space, a large commons area for studying and hanging out, and a new main entrance. Coming through the old entrance felt like using a back door of a building, not entering the front of the school, students said.

“When you walk into a school, it is going to feel like you are walking into a school and not through the back door,” said Ana Castro, principal of JRS Architects, the firm doing the design for the school.

Renaissance’s art room is getting a makeover, as is the science room. Some of the large classrooms will be turned into offices so that social workers and mentors can have a private place to counsel students.

Renaissance is known for its intensive student-mentoring program, Seeds of Promise, that pairs boys deemed at risk for dropping out or getting into trouble with male mentors. Cass said the Ravens are seeking other businesses to help fund the program for at least three years.

Principal Nikkia Rowe said the renovations will create a more stable and comfortable learning environment for students who live in troubled neighborhoods and view their school as a safe place.

“When your outside scope is one of blight, you want to feel safe when you enter your school,” Rowe said. “You want it to be a place of learning and powerful thinking.”

She said the uncertainty about the future of Renaissance, and lingering fears following the 2015 stabbing death of Ananias Jolley, 17, had hurt enrollment but that she hoped the renovations would provide a fresh start for the school.

amcdaniels@baltsun.com

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