Students at Green Street Academy work on a science experiment. (Photo by Naomi Harris)
The floorboards creak under shoes as the children cross the room to their lab groups and the room fills with chatter while the teacher instructs the 8th grade class from Green Street Academy to grab goggles.
“Goggles on,” Mr. Sarbanes calls out before instructing 4 students on how to prepare the lab for their science class.
The 23 students all wear the same uniform of gray pants, white shirts while some have on bright green ties. Once Mr. Sarbanes finishes telling the lab leaders what to do he tells students to read through the lab instructions.
Tyesha Hammond, 14-year-old resident of Baltimore, stops to help one of her classmates fix her goggles before passing out materials to the class.
Green Street, a public charter school with a focus on sustainability, opened at its current location on North Hilton in West Baltimore in September and students and the administration are still getting used to the new home.
“The building was built in 1926 and we are expecting it to run like it was built in 2015,” Daniel Schochor, executive director of GSA, said.
“Every year is a new experience,” he said. “Even though you expand the structure each student has to be looked at as an individual.”
Even with a school that plans on increasing its student size to 875 students in a building of 145,000 square feet Hammond says still feels comfortable talking to her teachers. Last year, when she had problems with her younger sister bullying her she talked to her advisory teacher about it.
“No matter what it is, even if it is a personal problem, I can just go up to my teachers and talk about it and they’ll be really supportive,” she said.
In classes set up differently, each of Hammond’s teachers use their rooms to engage students. The rooms buzz with energy and chairs spin on their axels as students stare up ahead at the screens.
Sarbanes maintains his student’s attention by calling out names to help him fill in answers on a writeable wall.
For Sarbanes, the type of school does not matter as much as what the school can provide for its students.
“It’s much more about who is there, what the mission is and what the culture is like there,” said Sarbanes. “The vision is really compelling.”
The vision, according to the school administrators, is that the environment prepares students with “marketable skills” along with a “STEM curriculum, project-based learning, internships, and certifications” in certain field areas.
Hammond, for example, has five classes, lunch and an advisory period every day. She wakes up at 6 or 6:10 a.m. and leaves her house by 6:55 to make the bus that will take her school.
She started at GSA in the 6th grade after starting school at Samuel F.B. Morse. Since then Hammond has joined the debate team in hopes of becoming comfortable talking in front of others.
“I got into debate because I want to be a lawyer, it’s been a goal of mine since the 5th grade, I thought it would help me because I don’t like speaking in front of people,” she said.
Hammond realized she wanted to be a lawyer because of what she saw around her.
“I’ve seen so many of my friends have problems with their parents, or aunts, or uncles going to jail for no reason or getting caught up in something that they’re not supposed to get caught up in,” Hammond said.
Such ownership of her education is a goal faculty hope will happen for students, said Schochor.
“With middle schoolers, particularly, it is really important that they have a sense of ownership and when they see their peers doing something then it makes them wonder how they can do it,” he said.
Part of GSA curriculum is also based on the progress reports from I Ready benchmark exams. The benchmark uses common core standards in an adaptive way, said Schochor. Many students who enter into the 6th are a grade or two behind, he said.
“We are going to have to make more than a year of growth per year for our students to get back to grade level and/or exceed grade level,” said Schochor.
For growth to happen the school pushes “urgency” on the administration, teachers and students through a competitive atmosphere between classes. Each class has average scores placed right next to each other so that everyone can see how the other classes are doing.