Friendship Opens New School in Congress Heights
For years a vacant McDonald’s sat on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE just past the West Campus of Saint Elizabeths on the edge of the commercial district of Congress Heights. The blight is no more; in its place Friendship Technology Preparatory Academy has erected a new $18.9 million, three-story high school with 25 classrooms,six labs for computer, engineering and science classes, and a greenhouse which welcomes its first years of students and faculty this fall. Tech Prep, which serves sixth through 12th graders, joins the adjacent elementary and former high school buildings in a cluster on Milwaukee Place SE that now emits the spark and the synergy of a small education village.
“When Friendship opened its first school in Ward Eight more than a decade ago we promised parents that we would build schools that were respectful of the children who attended,” says Donald Hense, founder and chairman of Friendship Public Charter Schools which now has six school campuses across the city. “The buildings would always be first class. We believe that this facility, which is one of the most advanced technologically of any in the greater metropolitan area, fulfills that promise. What is taught in the school will be subjects that will prepare our young people to succeed at any college or university in the nation.”
Hense, a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta, has been able to lead the construction of new Friendship facilities through the issuance of $60 million in bonds through the District of Columbia's Industrial Revenue Bond program to purchase and renovate Friendship's schools.
On a recent visit to Tech Prep Academy, I was provided a tour by 15-year old sophomore engineering student Joseph Adams, Jr. and 17-year old senior history student Trayona Lawrence who bristled with pride at the opportunities their new building will afford.
“We have more equipment and now we have a real robotic lab,” said Joseph, who holds a 3.8 GPA and served as captain of last year’s robotics team. Explaining the difference between a Vex starter set, “more plastic,” and a Tetrix starter set, “more metal,” the young man was already thinking ahead to the upcoming First Tech Challenge which attracts engineering and robotics students from across the city. “I like our chances this year,” he said.
One of 30 students in Tech Prep’s initial graduating class, Trayona remarked, “We’ve been waiting on the new school for years. It’s really a school of tomorrow for the children who live in DC today.” Captain of last year’s debate team and a contributor to the school’s online journal, Trayona has her sights set on attending Clark Atlanta University and becoming a history teacher.
"The new Tech Prep facility is a brick and mortar representation of Mr. Hense's vision for what a secondary school should be: both metaphor and practical space,” principal Doranna Tindle wrote in an email. Tindle was named Principal in June 2012 and previously served as Assistant Principal and Instructional Coach at Friendship Collegiate Academy. “Tech Prep is a symbol for the promise and possibility that exists in our students and the surrounding community. Tech Prep is a practical space that helps us carry out our college-going STEM mission, providing state-of-the-art engineering and science labs, cutting edge technology, and green design.”
As validation of the Friendship model, last year, the school’s charter application was approved by DC Public Charter School Board for another 15 years.
Ballou High School Construction Continues
A short walk down the street from Tech Prep, a state-of-the-art facility is rising anew out of the hillside at 4th Street and Mississippi Avenue SE. At a cost of $142 million, students from Frank W. Ballou Senior High School will discover a cutting-edge, modern school upon their return from winter break in January 2015. Built to accommodate up to 1,400 students, the new Ballou will have 37 classrooms as well as science labs, auto mechanic training and cosmetology training centers, a culinary arts kitchen, a greenhouse, performing and visual arts spaces, and a swimming pool. The second phase of construction, including a new football stadium and auxiliary field, is scheduled to be completed in August 2015.