Author:  Will Moss           1/4/2021            HBCU Connect


Black Billionaire, Robert F. Smith, Launches School Based on HBCU Principles

A new high school in the Montbello neighborhood in Denver, Colorado is the creation of Denver-native and East High School graduate, Robert F. Smith. The Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy will embrace science, technology, engineering, arts and math. It’s founded on the principles of historically Black colleges and universities.

“When I think about what it took to create the STEAM academy, it occurs to me it wasn’t actually about starting a school. It was about building a village,” said Smith.

The school’s principal and HBCU graduate, Shakira Abney-Wisdom, hopes students will experience the same sense of community that she felt at Florida A&M University.

“From the time I was in pre-K through graduate school I went to predominantly white institutions. Just stepping on the campus at A&M, it felt like I belonged, just seeing students who looked like me, professors who looked like me. It’s something that’s difficult to articulate if you haven’t experienced it, but it’s just that sense of community and family,” said Abney-Wisdom.

According to Denver Public School, the STEAM Academy is grounded in three central components; Blackness, inclusion and interdisciplinary focus.

This high school experience will honor students’ history, individuality and cultural experiences.

“We get excited about the places where we belong. When we feel that me matter in space and what we bring is valuable, we show up as our full selves. That’s the piece for me that’s so important. It shows up in engagement and course performance,” said Abney-Wisdom.

She says that sense of community and belonging can make all the difference in a student’s school experience. HBCUs offer all
students, regardless of race, a chance to develop their skills. According to DPS, students of color feel more at home and perform better in schools where they feel supported and safe. Black representation is missing from many classrooms and many workplaces.

“The demographics of people who make up the majority of the STEM professions are not people of color. HBCUs are the number one producers of black professionals in STEM fields. The hope is that the access piece would give students the opportunity to test out and see if they want to be an engineer, or researcher or scientist,” said Abney-Wisdom.

The Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy will begin enrolling its founding class during the 2020-21 school year. Rising 9th graders can enroll during SchoolChoice Round 1, which will begin in January 2021.

The founding class will start in August 2021 for the 2021-22 school year.
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