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A model for urban education

The following is a guest commentary by Morrise Harbour, principal at Friendship Public Charter School's Chamberlain campus.

At Friendship Public Charter School’s Chamberlain elementary and middle school campus on Potomac Avenue, in Southeast D.C., we celebrated an important milestone as we closed out last year. Our school was recognized as a Tier 1, high-performing school by D.C.’s Public Charter School Board, one of only 23 such schools to achieve that distinction. I am the first African-American male principal to take one of D.C.’s public charter schools from Tier 2 to Tier 1.

What we offer in our tuition-free and open enrollment campus is preparation for the rigor of a college education from the earliest age, preschool through the eighth grade. In a safe and caring environment, for which the charter board rates us at 100 percent for attendance and 85 percent for re-enrollment, we believe that all of our children with the right instruction and school culture can succeed.

In addition to our college preparatory curriculum, our school offers an extensive range of extra-curricular activities. These include a Saturday Learning Academy for students to provide additional academic support and a gifted and talented program known as Smart COOKIES, Challenging Our Own Kids Intellectually, Educationally and Socially. Our school also is firmly anchored in our neighborhood in Southeast D.C., and has been key to the revival of the community in recent years.

Many of our students go on to high school at Friendship’s Collegiate Academy on Minnesota Avenue. This college preparatory high school has a 95-percent on-time graduation rate, 37 percentage points higher than the average for D.C. Public Schools, and 100 percent of each graduating class is accepted to college. In total, Collegiate Academy’s students have earned over $50 million in college scholarships, offering a free ride for many students to attend the university of their choice, and positioning them for successful professional careers.

As preparation for college, Collegiate Academy offers high-school students academically rigorous Advanced Placement courses and thousands of students have now taken these classes. Students also can take college courses for college credit, while still at high school, thanks to an Early College program. The District of Columbia recently agreed to provide funds for a career academy in information technology at Collegiate, and another in engineering at Friendship’s Technology Preparatory Academy, located on Martin Luther King Avenue in Congress Heights.

Friendship’s Tech Prep opens in a new state-of-the-art facility next school year, with a $22 million dollar investment in a new campus. The campus will include a high-tech SMART lab, a robotics lab, two chemistry and two biology labs and a greenhouse. The school’s mission is to introduce students to 21st century skills in environmental sciences, engineering and technology, including computer-aided design, 3-D printing and gamin

Students at Tech Prep Academy, Collegiate Academy and Friendship's Chamberlain campus have the opportunity to achieve a world-class education. This education truly motivates them to achieve high academic standards, enjoy learning, and develop as ethical, literate, well-rounded and self-sufficient citizens who contribute actively to their communities.

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