Soccer? Check. Robotics? Sure. Photography, yoga, brain games, glee club, debate team, fitness, and self-defense? Yes! The list of after-school activities at Federal Hill Preparatory School is a window into this school’s spirit–an inspiring inventory of creative opportunities. And that’s just the way Principal Sara Long likes it.
“Exposure is the most important thing that you can give kids because they will never know if they like something if they haven’t tried it. My role is to provide students with varied experiences to foster curiosity and interest of new things,” explains Long.
There’s no doubt that the line-up of after-school clubs achieves this goal of exposure with new club programming every 10 weeks. Right now, there’s even a Pokemon club that lets younger students channel their love for Pikachu and the gang into a group activity.
Extensive after-school programming is just a small part of the program at Federal Hill Prep that engages and inspires young learners under Principal Long’s leadership. With 20 years experience in Baltimore city schools working as a teacher, administrator, and Assistant Principal, Long is an expert at providing students with broader learning experiences beyond the traditional classroom.
Since joining prep in 2013, Long has helped grow many of the school’s signature programs. There’s the Gifted and Talented program that identifies children beginning in kindergarten for advanced learning opportunities tailored to their strengths. The robust arts program supports a full-time art teacher with arts integrated into classes and a full-scale spring musical every year that rivals the arts programs at private schools or community theaters. And as a Maryland Green school, Prep increases awareness about environmental issues with its garden habitat, living walls, and classroom activities.
But her greatest accomplishment? “I am most proud of the culture and climate of the school. We are welcoming, open, and supportive of each other,” describes Long. Parents are encouraged to visit, volunteer, and participate in all school events and activities. This creates a strong and active PTO. Long describes her students as kind and accepting of each other. “Every morning, I come to a school that has a feeling of community–the kids come in happy, the staff comes in happy,” explains Long.
Overseeing a public school in Baltimore city certainly comes with its challenges. There’s the matter of attracting students in a city where many families choose to look elsewhere once the kids hit school-age. “It’s a shame that many people don’t know what’s happening inside the walls of city schools, and take the gossip for gospel,” states Long matter-of-factly. “That’s not to say there are areas where work needs to be done, but there are schools that are providing kids with exceptional opportunities.” Despite the obstacles, Long says the school serves students from every Baltimore city zip code and not just the surrounding neighborhoods of Federal HIll, Riverside, Otterbein, South Baltimore, and beyond.
And then there’s the enormous benefit of being an elementary school situated in the heart of a great city. Students can walk to the Maryland Science Center for field trips and the American Visionary Arts Museum has been a partner for the school’s arts education. Medical students from the University of Maryland work with students in the gifted and talented program in small groups once a week.
As all parent know, the elementary school days fly by. What’s next for Prep students after finishing 5th grade? To become model citizens, naturally. But in the short-term, many graduates move on to specialized city middle school programs like Ingenuity Middle School Programs (at Hamilton, Mount Royal, or Roland Park) or Advanced Academics. Others continue on to their neighborhood school. And Principal Long’s wish for all of her students? “I hope that we are prepping students for a love of learning that leads to educational opportunities and career paths that meet their interests and unique gifts.”
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Photos by Laura Black.