Northeast Community Propel Academy, 7500 Rowland Ave., welcomed 1,200 students into what Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. called “a 21st-century learning environment.”
The new school serves grades K-7 and next year will expand to K-8. In addition, it will help with the overcrowding at nearby elementary and middle schools such as J.H. Brown, Mayfair and Forrest elementary schools.
Mayor Jim Kenney was in attendance at the grand opening, along with Councilmember Bobby Henon and Congressman Brendan Boyle.
“You have a design for a 21st-century learning facility that takes into account all the critical thinking and opportunities they can have in technology offered to the children and families right here in Northeast Philadelphia, in particular Mayfair,” Henon said.
The school has a S.T.E.A.M-driven curriculum, a combination of science and the arts. It includes laboratories for robotics, two art rooms — one of which has a pottery kiln — and three music rooms that serve as a place for music theory and vocals, a digital keyboard lab and instrumental music, all in addition to their regular classrooms.
But regular is not the right word for this school. Both the outside and inside of the building have a very modern style of architecture that pops with brilliant accents.
The spacious 180,000-square-foot building feels more like a college campus than an elementary and middle school. As a result, it stands in stark contrast to other districts’ schools, some built in the early 1900s.
“If I had my choice, I would build schools like this in every neighborhood,” Hite said.
The Gilbane Building Company and Stantec Architecture Inc. handled the school conception and design, making it a public-private partnership. The final price tag for the design and construction of the school was $80 million and financing was completed a week before COVID-19 shut down schools in March 2020.
“This was a fantastic project and a true testament to how the village comes together.” Darin Early, managing director of public-private partnerships for Gilbane, said.
The building company faced its share of difficulties with the project due to COVID-19. It had trouble getting permits because offices were closed, and a material shortage hampered its efforts. But they managed to get the project completed and ready for students.
Dywonne Davis-Harris, founding principal of Northeast Community Propel Academy, has been a part of the process since its conception. As a member of the community, she is thrilled to contribute. She spoke about how the name itself, Propel, is part of its mission statement because they want their students to be prepared to move into the future.
“There are so many opportunities for students to engage and engage in those types of S.T.E.A.M.-focused curriculum,” Davis-Harris said.
She added that the community is becoming more diverse, sometimes leading to conflict, but Propel can be a solution.
“What we plan to do here with the students is build a community,” Davis-Harris said. “I know that children can change the world. So as the children change their mindset and celebration of others, who are of different backgrounds and ethnicities, they can take that home. Then that’ll change the parents’ mindset, the community and eventually the world.” ••