A school for tomorrow in Prince George's County today
By Joe Harris
An exciting new educational opportunity is coming to Prince George’s County, uniquely designed for Maryland’s students and families. Convenient for Bowie, Upper Marlboro, Lanham, Largo and surrounding neighborhoods, a state-of-the-art elementary school is about to open serving grades K through fifth grade, accepting kindergarten and first grade applications for the upcoming school year, which starts this coming August. Every county-resident child eligible for these two grades may apply.
Specializing in STEM-science, technology, engineering and math–disciplines, the school will prepare students for success in middle and high school followed by the academic rigor of a college education and the rewards of this new century’s careers. The school’s educational philosophy is project-based learning: teaching students how to learn. This follows the approval of the school’s charter, following the unanimous decision of the Prince George’s County School Board allowing it to open.
STEM programs and activities teach far more than core science and math-based concepts. They help children discover real-world applications, spark creativity and develop the skills and mindset required for tomorrow’s economy. These include social and communication skills, flexibility and initiative as well as critical thinking, curiosity, persistence, resilience, teamwork and entrepreneurship.
Friendship Aspire STEM Academy - Bowie is an initial $22 million bricks-and-mortar investment in a world-class building at its Bowie location, increasing to $30 million when the infrastructure is fully built out. The campus will anchor Bowie’s South Lake Technology Hub, a 380-acre housing, retail and commercial development in the City of Bowie, which will include athletic, leisure and hospitality facilities.
The educational lynchpin in this technology hub, Friendship Aspire Schools will provide the critical element of a good public school. Good schools, and the anticipated good jobs and good housing, are essential for any good community. The campus will build the skills of tomorrow needed by the technology enterprises coming to the area, while nearby homes will be conveniently located for students’ families, as well as teachers and school staff, who will be able to take advantage of a teacher-residency program.
Friendship Aspire School’s partnership with the University of Maryland will follow a tried-and-tested method, by which we have achieved 100 percent college acceptance rates at two high-schools. This includes prestigious Ivy League institutions, such as Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania; highly-selective local colleges including Georgetown and the University of Virginia, and historically black colleges and universities, among them: Morehouse, Spelman and Howard.
In this tradition of high-expectations, the new school will build upon the proven track record of Friendship’s high-performing public charter schools and college partnerships around the nation. This has been achieved by a commitment to scholastic excellence; strong and safe school cultures; and project-based learning–teaching students how to learn, essential in today’s fast-changing global economy–which our Bowie campus will emulate.
In Arkansas, Friendship’s Pine Bluff elementary school was named the number one public charter elementary school out of 728 such schools nationally by U.S. News and World Report and the top elementary school in its county. Our Little Rock, Arkansas, middle school also was named number one in its county. In Arkansas and Washington, DC, Friendship’s results also have led it to being entrusted with charters to open public schools and turning around failing traditional public schools.
Friendship believes in equity, ensuring Black and Brown students realize their potential via a high-quality public education. Prince George’s is one of the two wealthiest African-American majority counties in the nation. Yet only one in six African-American students perform at grade level in math, and two in five in English language arts; and the high-school graduation rate ranks below the state average. As such, the lack of choice and diversity in the county’s traditional public school system isn’t best serving its families.
My 20 years’ experience in leadership roles in public schools and the century-old anti-poverty nonprofit Friendship House, out of which its school system grew and flourished, combined with my personal commitment to underserved families and neighborhoods, tells me we can succeed. Working together, we can build the school parents are asking for and transform the lives and trajectories of vulnerable youth and communities, starting this year.
Joe Harris is a senior education and charter school leader with 25+ years of executive level experience as an education change agent, cultural activist, and global citizen committed to making a difference in public education.