Students, parents get first look at Smith STEAM Academy

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch
  • The Smith STEAM Academy is set to open Aug. 21.
  • Hundreds of parents and students attended the school's open house Wednesday evening.
  • York City Superintendent Eric Holmes called the school's re-opening a new chapter for the district.

The hilltop on Texas Avenue had a sight Wednesday evening that hasn’t been seen in years: students and parents packing the street, heading toward the Smith school building.

After a four-year closure, the former Edgar Fahs Smith Middle School building is reopening as the York City School District’s first schoolwide STEAM Academy on Monday, Aug. 21.

From left, Ariane Dasilva, her daughter Anne, 11, Esmeralda Yanez, 10, and Esmeralda's mother, Denise, look at a class list in a classroom during a tour of Edgar Fahs Smith STEAM Academy on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. The school will be open for classes starting Monday, Aug. 21, for students in grades 3-8 for the new school year. Bill Kalina photo

Parents and students had their first chance to meet teachers and explore the refurbished building during the school’s open house Wednesday, Aug. 9, which York City Superintendent (and former Smith principal) Eric Holmes called an exciting new chapter for the district and its students.

“When they leave here ... they will be ready for the 21st-century workforce or higher education — whichever they choose,” Holmes said.

The school, which has students in grades 3-8, will have an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM), a concept used in several urban districts around the state including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, as well as for some students in grades 4-8 at Ferguson K-8 in York City.

Holmes also praised the school’s principal, Angela Ashley, a former assistant principal at Devers K-8 and former elementary school principal in Baltimore City schools.

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“I could not have picked a better choice to head up this school,” Holmes said. “She has the drive and passion and commitment that we need. ... This place will flourish under her leadership.”

Ashley remarked that the open house was a day she had been looking forward to for months.

She also thanked the staff for the restoration process at the school, which was last open in 2012.

“It’s unbelievable how beautiful this building is becoming,” she said.

After remarks in the school’s auditorium, parents and children packed the main entrance lobby to get school schedules and homeroom information before meeting teachers in their classrooms.

Across the school’s hallways, tables for clubs appeared at every turn for student organizations and after-school programs, including Girl Scouts and a robotics team.

Ray Ames, executive director of Young Thinkers of York, will head the after-school robotics group in a space provided by Martin Library.

He says the group will be the first competing group coming from city schools and added he hopes to teach the students more than technical skills.

“It’ll incorporate a lot of life skills,” Ames said, including collaboration, team-building and critical thinking.

York City parent Michele Orlof said she was excited for her son Ben, 12, to be among the first to enter the revamped building after transferring from the STEAM program at Ferguson K-8.

“It’s the perfect opportunity for students who excel in the STEAM model,” she said.

Kapreshia Collier, of York City, said her son Kenneth, 9, was nervous about starting at a new school because he would leave his friends at Hannah Penn K-8, but he ended up running into many of them during the open house.

York City School District Superintendent Eric Holmes, left, introduces teachers before a tour of Edgar Fahs Smith STEAM Academy on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. The school will be open for classes starting Monday, Aug. 21, for students in grades 3-8 for the new school year. Bill Kalina photo

Collier said she trusts Holmes’ judgment on leading the school and the district and recalled having him as principal when she attended Hannah Penn.

“He was real stern as a principal,” she said, but she praised Holmes as an administrator who rose through the ranks to further serve city students.

State Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York, was among the few hundred visitors during the academy’s open house and said it was an exciting new endeavor for the district.

“The things that they’re being offered are beyond anything that we ever could’ve hoped for when (I was) going up,” she said.

Hill-Evans, who was sporting the school’s burgundy polo shirt, added she looks forward to the positive outcome the school will provide to city students.

“This is going to make them competitive, and that’s the edge that they need," she said. “It’s wonderful.”

Editor's note: This article was updated to reflect the full name of the STEM-focused organization Young Thinkers of York.