Two young adults have taken it upon themselves to establish a better relationship between Friendship Academy of Science and Technology of 801 S. Highland St. and the surrounding Canton community.
More frequent and more positive interaction between community members and students is the key, say local resident Morgan Fink and Friendship Academy teacher Tim Shea.
Shea met Fink, who is studying for a master’s degree while working at a nonprofit, at a Baltimore education summit. The two shared a common background as alums of Teach for America—a nonprofit that sends recent college graduates to teach in low-income communities.
“We just sort of got to talking about the relationship between [Friendship Academy] and the surrounding community,” explained Shea. “We decided to start brainstorming ideas on how to integrate the school and the community more.”
The first thing they did was hold a happy hour last month at Cardinal Tavern, inviting faculty and staff from Friendship Academy as well as all members from the surrounding neighborhood who wished to attend and voice their concerns.
“The goal was to have community members and the school come together,” said Fink. “ [Shea] is the school; I’m the community.”
The first happy hour brought a large turnout.
“We had like 20 people,” said Fink, “which was way more than expected.”
“I’m thrilled that the school is reaching out to the community, and I was really impressed with the teachers I spoke to and what they are accomplishing in the classroom,” said Canton resident Stacy Spaulding, who attended the first happy hour. “I hope that they’ll find ways for some of us to get involved so that we can cultivate a stronger sense of community between the school and the neighborhood.”
Though both Shea and Fink noted that the majority of the community members attending have been “very positive,” there has historically been friction between the school and the community, through the building’s first incarnation as Canton Middle School and later as Friendship Academy of Science and Technology. Today, it educates children in grades 6-12 from various parts of the city.
Friendship Academy is an umbrella organization with charter schools in the Baltimore and D.C. areas as well as five “partnership” or “turnaround” schools, in which Friendship has partnered with the city school systems to bring “additional resources, expertise, and professional development opportunities necessary to create a more successful academic experience for children,” to certain schools that have had trouble meeting performance goals, according to the Friendship website.
In 2009, the Guide reported that portions of a community meeting on the plan to change Canton Middle School to Friendship Academy rather than closing it altogether, were “by all accounts, a shouting match between those who opposed the school and those who supported it.”
“I think, by and large, they’re pretty motivated students, but they’re kids,”
said Shea, who teaches statistics and pre-calculus. “They like to have a good time; they’re just kids.”
“I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t some problems,” said Fink. “It makes some residents uneasy to see some kids being super loud.”
Other residents have complained about profanity, litter, and vandalism. Fink said that “there might be more respect both ways,” and that it would help if students saw the neighborhood as more than the place around their school.
“They don’t think about the people living here because they don’t know the people living here,” she said.
But both Fink and Shea say that Canton is a great place for a school to be.
“Canton has people who are young and smart, and who maybe, outside of work, don’t have a lot of responsibilities, who could get involved,” said Fink.
“There are a lot of people who do a lot of cool things, who could do a lot for the school,” added Shea.
Both note that there are not many extracurricular activities at the school. The basketball team has no home court; and members of the track team run in the building’s hallways.
But that could change. Shea said that one Cantonite is looking into finding a track facility for the team; other members have offered their time in other extracurriculars or as academic tutors.
For those who would like to get involved, Shea may be reached at email@example.com or 203-710-4633. Check the Guide’s Community Calendar for future happy hours.
by Erik Zygmont