The gospel song "We Shall Overcome" that rang through the halls of Pimlico Elementary/Middle School on Monday signaled a new beginning for the Park Heights neighborhood, city and school leaders said.
State and local leaders joined the community at the Northwest Baltimore school to celebrate the opening of the second site in the city to host a U.S. Dream Academy, an after-school program that has drawn the financial support of influential people such as Oprah Winfrey and national recognition from former President George W. Bush.
The academy, founded by Grammy-nominated gospel singer Wintley Phipps, serves students in third through eighth grade who have incarcerated parents or family members who have been in the prison system, live in at-risk communities and attend schools that fail to meet yearly academic progress goals. The program provides a hot meal and three hours of after-school mentoring to students.
"I am so proud to have this program here in our school," said Elneeta Jones, principal of Pimlico Elementary/Middle. "It targets a population that people don't talk about or are forgotten."
Donnie Green, president of the school's Grandparents Club, agreed. "It's going to be a great help to the children and keep them out of the street," she said.
The academy, which hosts 10 learning centers in 10 cities across the country, has been operating in Baltimore for seven years at Collington Square Elementary School, where nearly $3 million has been invested in about 500 students in the East Baltimore neighborhood.
Pimlico was chosen as the next site with input from the mayor's office and city schools officials, because the academy would support a number of efforts to revitalize the Park Heights neighborhood.
"The support this academy gives is absolutely critical," said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. "This community's best days are yet to come."
Jonathan Brice, executive director of student support and safety for the city schools, called the academy's opening "the first day of what we believe is going to be life-changing" for students.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, talked about his drive into the Park Heights neighborhood for the ceremony Monday morning.
He passed a funeral home, a drug rehabilitation center and a memorial "with wine bottles and teddy bears for somebody who probably dreamed a great dream but was unable to achieve it," he said.
"We are a product of our expectations," Cummings said. "That's why the Dream Academy is so important — they lift up the expectations of our students. Part of our dream needs to be that we can have a Dream Academy in every school that needs it."
Phipps — who ended the ceremony by leading the gospel song — told the crowd that the mission of the organization boils down to "a child without a dream is a child without a future."
Also during the ceremony, Wachovia Bank presented the Pimlico Dream Academy with $10,000, and Southwest Airlines announced that two pilots will mentor students at the school for a month.