East Baltimore students start new year in new school

Hundreds of Baltimore students started 2014 exploring a sprawling new campus that officials say will become a national model for urban education reform.

The highly anticipated Elmer A. Henderson School, run by the Johns Hopkins University and Morgan State University, opened its doors Thursday to more than 350 students who have been waiting several years to move from small portable classrooms to the 90,000-square-foot building.


"It's huge," Onya Boyd said as she walked up and down the school's hallways, well after the bell rang, in search of her daughter's third-grade classroom. "We're lost, but I don't even care because it's like taking a tour. It's like a museum."

The K-through-8 school, known as Henderson-Hopkins, is the cornerstone project of the $1.8 billion public-private effort to revitalize East Baltimore by transforming the former Middle East neighborhood into a hub of homes and businesses.


Hopkins officials say the $42 million building will provide a world-class education for city students while serving as a laboratory for the next generation of educators not only from Hopkins and Morgan but from around the world.

"We spent a long time preparing for this day and are proud to see excited young students filling halls and classrooms of this state-of-the-art facility," Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels said.

"The opening of the Henderson-Hopkins school represents a tremendous moment for our entire community. But most important, it is a powerful illustration of our deep, shared commitment to the future of East Baltimore — it's all about the kids."

A $10 million, 28,000-square-foot Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Early Childhood Center is scheduled to open on the campus in July.

The Henderson-Hopkins school faced some of the same criticism as the overall redevelopment plan for East Baltimore. Some longtime residents asked whether the revitalization is intended to benefit those who already live in the community or those Hopkins hopes to draw there.

Some families who live a block from the new school were told it did not have space for their children, though spots were reserved for children of Hopkins employees.

One of those parents, Stephanie Ruffner, was among those who decried the admissions structure that put her daughter on the waiting list. Her daughter eventually was accepted, and Ruffner accompanied her to the school Thursday.

"Everything is really awesome," Ruffner said. "I had to see it. This is exactly what I wanted for her. I'm so excited."


At every turn, the school is designed for what David Andrews, dean of Johns Hopkins' School of Education, called "next-generation learning."

Grades are assigned "houses" that are distinguished by color. Most houses host two grade levels, but no more than 120 students and six teachers. Classes are capped at 20 students.

Students — each of whom is given a personalized learning plan — are to be grouped by ability instead of age and instructed in a combination of traditional and open-space classrooms, based on which setting educators believe best fits their needs.

Spacious classrooms are outfitted with SmartBoards and flat-screen televisions. Reading benches line the walls of some rooms. Observation windows will allow guests or student teachers to watch classes in action.

The Hopkins School of Education is to run the school. Morgan's School of Education, which specializes in training educators to teach science, technology, engineering and math, is to provide teachers and their knowledge about educating children from urban communities.

Students at both universities will hold internships and do mentorships and student teaching there.


Each house has its own commons areas and "serveries," nontraditional spaces to be used for lunch. The idea is to cut down on time students spend moving through the school and allow them to take advantage of other amenities, like their houses' terraces.

The school also was designed with its roots in mind, officials said.

Virtually every wall is a window, and every view shows students that they are enveloped in East Baltimore.

Visible from a hallway are rowhouses on Patterson Park, the steeples of St. Wenceslaus Roman Catholic Church, and the lots of recently demolished homes on North Chester Street.

The school also has a 5,000-square-foot Family Resource Center, which was built for community uses such as GED classes, meetings, training sessions and public health programs.

"This is an East Baltimore building with East Baltimore roots and we like that it gets to showcase East Baltimore," said Annette Anderson, assistant dean for community schools at the Johns Hopkins School of Education. "There are very thoughtful nods to the fact that it's a new building, situated in history."


As parents, students and teachers got situated in the new school, art instructor Christina Herz thought about the future.

She was envisioning a life-size tyrannosaurus rex and other three-dimensional artwork that her students will be able to make in her new studio, which is a far cry from the narrow classroom in a portable with short ceilings, no windows and four tables where she has taught.

"It's really fun that we get to start over," Herz said. "Being in a temporary building was very limiting. They're going to be so proud to make work in this classroom.

Herz, a Maryland Institute College of Art graduate, said she pictured students sitting on the terrace outside her classroom, drawing the top of St. Wenceslaus Church, just as she and her classmates once did of the Baltimore Basilica.

"For me, it's really going to allow them to build a strong cultural foundation," she said. "The opportunities are endless."

In Cynite Cooke's fifth-grade classroom, students used a Venn diagram to compare their old and new schools.


Cooke said she believed that her new space would encourage a new way of teaching.

"The students have more autonomy in their learning based on the structure of the building," she said.

Students pinpointed differences between the schools: one floor in the new school versus two floors, hooks versus lockers, and big versus small.

"The old school was small," said fifth-grader Isaiah Hayes. "This new school is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious."