Chicago — A new Denver, Colorado high school modeled after HBCUs aims to help support students of color and their academic achievement
Named after the billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist, Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy will have students adhere to a curriculum that infuses stories about people of color in every class they offer, according to HBCU Buzz.
Principal Shakira Abney-Wisdom said the administration is working on partnerships with HBCUs to create connections between students and college alumni to establish “intergenerational relationships” in students’ formative years.
The school is located in the city’s northeast corner, home to many residents of color and where equity in education has long been a topic of discussion. The area hadn’t had a comprehensive high school in a decade.
The goal is to address systemic obstacles students might face at other schools, she said.
“There is a persistent erasure of the Black experience, of Latinx and indigenous experiences in this nation and world. Our focus is to really center the experience of those of us who have been marginalized and minoritized. We are not, by nature of our existence, ‘less than.’ But our stories have not been valued in the same ways,” Abney-Wisdom told HBCU Buzz. “Our school’s existence is just an act of resilience and resistance to oppressive structures in society. This is a sanctuary, really, a safe space for our scholars to be all that they are, and to grow, to challenge themselves, to challenge one another, to accomplish the goals that they have.”
Samantha Pryor, one of Smith’s co-founders and a long-time resident, said something needed to be done.
“We wanted to create a high quality option in our neighborhood, because a lot of our kids were going outside of our neighborhood, traveling long distances across the city, to find quality options,” Pryor said.
One the first day of school, some kids said they were uneasy because they had been remote for quite some time.
“I’m nervous because I haven’t been in a school building in a year and a half,” said Alexis Weddington, noting she was also looking forward to seeing classmates again. “I like staying at home, but then it’s like, I like getting to know people.”
Emmanuel Paris said he and his parents liked that the academy could steer him toward attending an HBCU, like his mom. But when asked what attracted him to Smith Academy's inaugural class, he said “everything, honestly.”
Aza’rayah Shorty was looking forward to “the fact that we don’t have to wear uniforms” in addition to the academic possibilities. She plans to be the first member of her family to go to college.
The principal, who graduated from Florida A&M University, said it has been exciting to see things come together for the school.
“I joined the work in June of 2020, and so it’s been exciting to go from being the only staff member on the school-based team to then recruiting nationally and internationally for our educator positions,” said Abney-Wisdom. “And now they’re here. So it’s really surreal and special.”