New Song Academy offers year-round education from pre-K-8. The institution has 174 students, 34 faculty with a 12-1 student-teacher ratio. (Courtesy Photo)

By Marnita Coleman,
Special to the AFRO

It all started in 1991, when a group of community members believed a learning center was needed to help revitalize the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood. Building on Sandtown Habitat for Humanity formed two years prior, the dedicated group of supporters, led by founders Susan Tibbels and her late husband, Allan M. Tibbels, established the New Song Community Learning Center, a non-profit educational program for the community.

The vision expanded in 1994 with the opening of New Song Academy, a community-based school, now listed among the 31 public charter schools in Baltimore City.

Hidden in plain sight at 1530 Presstman Street, New Song Academy, a charter school within the Baltimore City Public School System, is proud to call West Baltimore home. The school offers year-round education from pre-K-8. The almost 30-year-old school has 174 students, 34 faculty with a 12-1 student-teacher ratio. There are a total of eight after-school programs including creative and performing arts, math tutoring, robotics, Girl Scouts and basketball for boys and girls.

The Academy and Learning Center have received rave reviews. “Academically, the school is top notch in my opinion to be a city charter school,” Dachielle Pittman, the parent of a second-grade, honor-roll student and football player, said. “The different programs, partners, and educators are really passionate about providing opportunities to the kids.” 

She added that its success starts at the top, noting that Principal Douglas Fireside is “amazing, very hands on, supportive, and keeps a watchful eye on my son.” Pittman describes how Principal Fireside calls Pittman just to let her know how her son’s day is going. “He has been this way since the day I met him.” 

Baltimore City Public Schools conducts parent school surveys to capture families’ perceptions of their schools, asking 27 questions across 9 dimensions, specifically safety, creativity and the arts, learning climate, physical environment, school resources, the administration, family involvement, overall satisfaction and grit. The New Song Academy parents rank their top five dimensions as: Grit-100 percent; physical environment-98 percent; school resources-96.8 percent; administration-96.2 percent; and overall satisfaction 94.5 percent.

While parents and students say they are “overall satisfied” with their New Song Academy experience, Jayson Jarual Green, executive director of New Song Community Learning Center, the operating arm of the school, noted that the Academy is still seeking to improve and extend its services. Funding is in place to implement a new reading program, he explained, which will “increase family engagement” in reading comprehension that ultimately “translates into better grades” for the students.

Rev. Rodney Hudson, pastor of Ames Memorial United Methodist Church in Sandtown, said Green’s planned, proactive academic approaches, continues the mission of the founders, and is “holistic” and “organic,” meeting the people where they are. 

Well-informed about the accomplishments of the Tibbels — from forming Sandtown Habitat for Humanity to the opening of New Song Community Church, the parent institution of New Song Community Learning Center— Hudson confirmed the “huge impact” on the Sandtown-Winchester community. 

In addition to learning, Hudson said, “They empower the children by providing out-of-state summer camps free of charge, taking them to places where the focus is leadership and character education.”

He continued: Character education is a “big thing,” especially in an “environment where there is a total breakdown of family values.” This has been a proponent of its training throughout the years with their students, Hudson said, recalling opportunities for parents to apply for homes through the Habitat for Humanity program as a byproduct of their children’s education. He also identified Rev. Michael A. Parker, II, pastor of Journey United Methodist Church in Prince George’s County, and a graduate of New Song Academy, as a great leader.

“New Song Academy is making long-term investments in the lives of families in Sandtown-Winchester,” Hudson said, “supporting students to become leaders in transforming their community.”

Parent Dachielle Pittman speaks of the Academy’s impact on her son, Jarius, noting the leadership skills he’s developing. She admits he’s a bit shy, but the New Song Academy faculty “is very involved with the students to get them to learn and try new things.”