Standing on the stage in the Green Street Academy auditorium, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings recalled his time as a student inside the building.
Back then, it was Gwynn Falls Park Junior High School.
Cummings, a Democrat from Baltimore, came to the school from a tiny elementary school with nine classrooms. He was placed in special education classes, but nonetheless felt “I had died and gone to heaven,” he said.
“It gave me a sense of hope,” Cummings said. “My dreams began to unfold.”
So have the dreams of Green Street Academy’s staff and students, who started this school year in the newly renovated building. School leaders cheered the grand opening of the formerly vacant building as a step in the right direction for West Baltimore.
The renovation cost $23 million, officials said. The school was previously located at 201 N. Bend Road in Baltimore.
“If you have not started dreaming, we are giving you permission to start dreaming today,” said Crystal Harden-Lindsey, Green Street Academy principal.
Founded in 2010, Green Street Academy is a public charter school for grades six through twelve. The curriculum has a STEM focus and takes a hands-on approach to lessons. The building includes almost 9 acres of green space, greenhouses, chicken coops and tilapia farms, and uses about 70 percent less energy than the average building constructed today, said Dr. Daniel Schochor, the school’s executive director.
Schochor says the ultimate goal is to offer a job training site for neighborhood adults, and turn it into a dual-generation educational experience.
“At no point do we believe this building represents a magic bullet,” Schochor said.
But it can serve as an important anchor institution in West Baltimore, he added.
Schochor said the response from the community has been “unbelievably positive.” But some challenges remain. Since the start of school, violence has erupted in the neighborhood around Green Street Academy.
None of the incidents have involved students, 60 percent of whom walk to school, Schochor said.
“But it’s a reminder of how unbelievably resilient our kids are,” he said.
Addressing students at the grand opening ceremony, Cummings said he spoke to one student who told him she feels safe at the school.
“How can you learn when you’re constantly worried about being harmed?” Cummings said. “It’s almost impossible. But that’s what Green Street provides for our children—a safe environment.”