Named for a Denver-born chemical engineer and investor, and planted in the northeast of the city, Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy opened its doors to an inaugural class of freshmen in August 2021. Denver Public Schools’ new charter school is modeled after Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and includes lessons from Black History 365 curriculum, which features a hip hop history album that tells a 40 chapter story on Black History. Students will engage in immersive, hands-on learning experiences with professionals who work in STEM, arts, and business.
Founding principal Shakira Abney-Wisdom, an alumna of HBCU Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, wrote on the school’s website: “I understand the impact of being in an unapologetically Black space complete with rigorous academic experiences, rich traditions, caring intergenerational relationships, strong community, and an incredible sense of pride.”
The administration is building partnerships with HBCUs for academic support and for students to build intergenerational relationships. With Clafflin University in South Carolina, they’ve set up a dual-credit computer science enrichment course—students create projects for a semester and then are eligible to take computer science 101. It’s designed to be a pathway for them directly into a computer science program, when they graduate. Florida A& M, Harris-Stone University, University of the Virgin Islands, and Norfolk State University partnerships are also in the works. The goal is to open all kinds of programming (band, STEAM, engineering, nursing, etc.) to Denver area students and, for those who meet admissions requirements at the HBCUs, grant scholarships upon graduation.
Code2College, an after school partner with Robert F. Smith, presents another lucrative opportunity. Students who participate in team-based projects and mentorships for at least a semester can then apply for paid summer internships.
Getting kids as young as ninth grade to build career-viable skills and college class experience is a great example of Denver Public School’s mission to “provide all students the opportunity to achieve the knowledge and skills necessary to become contributing citizens in our diverse society,” according to Abney-Wisdom.
Families so far are sending students from Centennial, Lakewood, Jefferson County, and all across Denver to Robert F. Smith.
“Overwhelmingly, the response from our kids is the excitement around being in a space where their identity is mirrored in the curriculum; what they’re learning, recognizes Black history, Black contributions within not just our country, but across the world,” Abney-Wisdom says. “I’m just grateful for the vision of our families, and our scholars and our educators that are making this a reality.”