Andrew Campanella: What is Howard University Middle School of Mathematics & Science’s approach to education?
Kathryn Procope: Our school was developed by educators here at Howard University, and the goal was to create a STEM pipeline starting at the middle school level. Research shows that students actually figure out what they want to do from a career standpoint, believe it or not, at the middle school age. So the goal for this school was to create that pathway here on the University’s campus. The University provides support by allowing our students to actually interact with professors here. We have students go to the chemistry department and do experiments. We’ve had interns here working with them. The University is working hard to create opportunities in STEM for the students here in D.C.
Andrew: How does it feel that a team of your students recently won the First Place Grand Award at the 2019 D.C. STEM Fair?
Kathryn: These students’ success in the STEM fair is part of the realization of the vision of our school. They’re showing that they are part of this pipeline toward STEM careers. I feel incredibly proud of the young people. Syiion and Kimani have done such a phenomenal job, and what they did was their own design. So just showing their scientific brains makes me really proud and excited to have them represent our school.
Andrew: Your school’s motto is “Choose the extraordinary.” What does that mean to your students and teachers?
Kathryn: For our students to be in the 7th and 8th grade and to know what they want to do from a career standpoint, to actually be thinking about college, is extraordinary. And we want our teachers, in the way they teach, to choose an extraordinary way to do it. We tell our young people, “You’re not in any box, defined by your zip code or anything else. You can choose whatever extraordinary path you want to follow.” That’s what we really want to push here at the school.
Andrew: What does it mean for your students and parents to be able to have the choice to attend a school like yours?
Kathryn: I think school choice is critical. Parents need to have options. If you live in a neighborhood that may have some challenges from a socioeconomic standpoint and the school that’s two blocks away from you hasn’t received the support that it should have, doesn’t have the teachers that it should have, and is not reaching the goals that it should have from a state testing perspective, a parent should have an option to select where they want their child to go. Every parent in the city wants the best for their children, so they should be able to make that choice. Look at groceries. Nobody forces you to go to Giant. You can go to Safeway. You can go to Whole Foods. You can order it online. School should not be any different.
Andrew: How does your school celebrate National School Choice Week every year?
Kathryn: We have yellow scarves all over the building. We do a social media blast. We have a wall that has become a chalk board and students get special markers and they get to write on there why school choice is important and what they love about our school. We involve the parents and just really help people recognize that we are a school of choice, you chose us, and it’s important that you have that choice. We do a lot from a social media perspective. Inside the school, we really pull the students together and help them come up with all kinds of creative ways to say how much they love our school and why choice is important.