A New 21st Century School For Howard Park

June 16, 2020


Calvin M. Rodwell Elementary/Middle School Reopens in Northwest Baltimore

By Kit Waskom Pollard

“Back to school” took on a new meaning for residents of the Northwest Baltimore community of Howard Park this winter. On January 6, nearly 800 students returned from winter break to a brand-new school facility: Calvin M. Rodwell Elementary/Middle School. 

The students had spent the previous year and a half in a swing space at Grove Park Elementary/Middle School, while Calvin Rodwell, which was originally built in 1978 and named for a local police officer who was killed in 1973, was demolished and completely rebuilt. Full of natural light and spaces thoughtfully designed by a team of architects from the firms Design Collective and Samaha, the new school is an exciting place for students, educators, parents, and the community as a whole.

“We were pretty much jam-packed – our intervention groups would happen under stairwells,” says Calvin Rodwell Principal Sam Rather of the original school building. “Now we have a great deal of space. We’re able to have teachers and students collaborate in common spaces.”

Rather says his students love the gym, which is large and has real bleachers that give it a “high school gym” feel. Parents are excited about the new building, too; Rather has seen an uptick in parent volunteering since it opened. 

One of Rather’s favorite areas in the new building is a broadcast studio outfitted with current technology. “It’s amazing that students have access to equipment that I had in college,” he says, noting that the school’s new technology, which includes broadcasting tools as well as items like 3D printers, has the potential to help children at Calvin Rodwell explore many new types of projects.

The Calvin Rodwell construction is part of the City’s larger 21st Century School Buildings program. Funding to overhaul and improve Baltimore City’s aging public school facilities comes from the State of Maryland, the City of Baltimore, and Baltimore City Public Schools, as a result of a campaign started in 2010 called Transform Baltimore: Build Schools, Build Neighborhoods.

For BCF, partnering with the community on the Calvin Rodwell project is a natural fit and in line with the organization’s place-based investment strategy. BCF’s 2019-2022 strategic plan identifies Calvin Rodwell, along with two other city schools and their communities, as anchors of that strategy; the schools are at the center of investments being made in their respective communities.

Specifically, BCF is supporting Calvin Rodwell with grants intended to strengthen the school’s culture and bolster academics. Organizations receiving grants include: Child First Authority, for additional staff for the middle school program; The Movement Team, to run a mentoring program on-site; and Garwyn Oaks Northwest Housing Resource Center, to support the Pathways to Homeownership program for school community families.

BCF’s Fund for Advocacy supported the original staff and organizing work for Transform Baltimore to secure the financing plan to modernize school facilities, and funding from BCF’s Fund for Neighborhoods, Fund for Education and unrestricted endowment income support our strategic grant-making in Howard Park today.

Calvin Rodwell’s main entrance on Liberty Heights Avenue was designed to make a statement and establish the school’s presence in the community, where it serves a practical need – educating Howard Park children – and provides an emotional beacon.

Before classes adjourned unexpectedly in March to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, Principal Rather was busy making the school a community hub. “I’m just very excited. We have heard people feel their neighborhood is prospering. It’s a sense of promise and hope. Parents are very welcoming and appreciative. Since we were given this, we want to make sure it’s taken care of, respected and nurtured.”

The forced cancellation of school has not changed that. In the weeks after classes were canceled, Calvin Rodwell was up and running as a food distribution site for families in need due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with emergency support from BCF. The rapid pivot to support families in a new way illustrates the power of schools as the anchors of communities—the foundation on which BCF is building its strategic place-based investments.  

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