Lucy Price, a master teacher at Friendship PCS Elementary & Middle, has solidified a track record of rigorous instruction that takes students to the next level academically. (Ja'Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)
Lucy Price, a master teacher at Friendship PCS Elementary & Middle, has solidified a track record of rigorous instruction that takes students to the next level academically. (Ja'Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)

For more than five years, Raegen Coby has increased her reading fluency, developed her critical thinking skills and gained an appreciation for learning at Friendship Public Charter School (PCS) Southeast Elementary & Middle, located in Congress Heights.

Raegan Coby, a former kindergarten student of teacher Lucy Price at Friendship Public Charter School (Ja’Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)

Raegen, who considers Southeast Elementary & Middle a safe home away from home, said instructors, like her former teacher Lucy Price, unflinchingly provide support, which has not only inspired her to go above and beyond in the classroom, but take on leadership roles as a student dance instructor. 

“My teachers push me to learn and give me high expectations,” said Raegen, a fifth grader at Southeast Elementary & Middle who aspires to become a veterinarian or professional hip-hop/ballet dancer. 

 “I overcame my challenges by pushing myself and thinking about my answers for 15 minutes. I meet all the expectations and do what I’m supposed to do. In the real world, I have the same goals I want to reach inside of school.” 

Southeast Academy, located just down the street from The Informer, counts among 15 Friendship PCS campuses scattered across the District. This year, Friendship PCS celebrates 25 years of existence in an educational ecosystem that has become increasingly diverse and robust since the school’s founding. 

Friendship PCS, which serves students between PK-3 and 12th grade, started as Friendship House, a District-based social services agency and daycare center. In response to the public school system’s low graduation rates and parents’ concerns about the quality of their child’s education, Friendship House founder Donald Hense secured a charter that allowed him to launch what was then known as Friendship-Edison PCS in 1998. 

Friendship-Edison PCS counted among the first District-based public charter schools that provided frustrated parents with options beyond their neighborhood public schools. Offerings provided by the charter school network over the years include an early college high school, career academies and advanced placement courses. 

In the realm of parent engagement, Friendship PCS trained parents in the basics of childcare through its parent university and hosted annual breakfast for fathers. These days, parents have representation via two seats on the Friendship PCS board of trustees.  

Hense, who serves as Friendship PCS’ board chairman, said such circumstances have cemented Friendship PCS’ longevity. For him, Friendship PCS and other public charter schools became the driving force in improving education in the District, primarily because it emboldened parents to control their child’s academic affairs. 

“I don’t think people thought that charter schools would be around,” Hense said. 

“We were among the first cohort and have served children and families honorably,” he added. “We were concerned about the state of schools in the neighborhood. [At the time], the DC Public Schools’ graduation rate was 50 percent. We wanted to increase it and provide a better learning environment.” 

An Early Actor in the Charter School Movement 

In 1995, Congress passed the District of Columbia School Reform Act, which made charter schools part of the local education system. 

Shortly after, the D.C. Council approved the D.C. School Reform Act, which designated the State Board of Education and the newly formed DC Public Charter School Board (DCPCSB) as chartering boards. SBOE would later relinquish those rights to DCPCSB.  

Years later, Friendship PCS counted among 19 charter schools that secured their charter from DCPCSB and the State Board of Education.  

Today,  there are 135 public charter schools run by 69 independently run nonprofits, also referred to as local education agencies.

Nearly half of the District’s student population attends a charter school, a significant portion of which are located east of Rock Creek Park and east of the Anacostia River, much to the chagrin of education advocates critical of public schools’ budget woes and pre-pandemic shuttering of public charter schools. 

As other public charter schools have come and gone, Friendship PCS continued to grow, in part by taking over the operations for public charter schools facing revocation of their charter for poor academic performance. 

Such was the case in 2005 when Friendship PCS acquired Southeast Academy, which is now Southeast Elementary & Middle. A decade later, Friendship brought Dorothy I. Height’s Community Academy PCS’ Armstrong campus and Nicholson/online campus into the fold following revelations about its founder’s financial malfeasance

Teachers Teaching Other Teachers

At Southeast Elementary & Middle, kindergarten teacher Lucy Price continues to improve in her craft, so much so,  she navigated a process to become a master teacher four years ago. 

As a master teacher, Price has solidified a track record of rigorous instruction that takes students to the next level academically. In her role, she not only continues to teach her kindergarteners, but conducts professional development workshops at Southeast Elementary & Middle and other Friendship PCS campuses. 

Price, in her 16th year at Southeast Elementary & Middle, said time’s of the essence, especially since her students are still transitioning into in-person learning. For the veteran instructor, teaching in the COVID era requires building foundational skills in students and establishing rapport with parents.

To this day, Price has been able to do that. 

Since starting at Southeast Elementary & Middle, she has taught siblings and attended the high school graduations of former students who have moved on to other Friendship PCS campuses. Those experiences, she said, primed her for the responsibility of teaching, and in many cases, learning from other instructors in the charter network.  

“We need to go over different skills and meet with other teachers,”Price said. “It helps to meet our colleagues throughout the network and see presentations by teachers who show their best practices.” 

Persistent Alumni Engagement

Throughout the years, Friendship PCS has increasingly focused on alumni engagement, particularly as it relates to supporting graduates’ collegiate endeavors. Through its Office of Alumni Affairs, Friendship PCS provides academic and financial aid counseling for graduates of Friendship Collegiate Academy and Technology Preparatory Academy. 

Alumni who are enrolled in college also qualify for the Friendship College Persistence Fund, which fills gaps in tuition, room, board, books and travel after other financial aid options have been utilized. 

DeMark Bowman, a Friendship Collegiate Academy alumnus, said he can attest to another aspect of Friendship PCS’ alumni relations: an ever-evolving student-to-employee pipeline. 

In 2008, Bowman graduated from Friendship Collegiate Academy with the help of teachers who supported him after his mother passed, and during other tenuous moments in his high school career. As he recounted to The Informer, his relationship with Friendship PCS continued to blossom in his adult years. 

While a student at Lafayette College, Bowman spent his summers interning in a Pre-kindergarten classroom at one of the Friendship PCS campuses. 

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree, Bowman worked full-time as an instructor at Achievement Preparatory PCS before returning to Friendship PCS, where he has since risen through the ranks as a 5th grade math teacher, human resources intern and eventually talent acquisition manager. 

With these experiences in mind, Bowman has explored opportunities to bring more Friendship PCS alumni into the fold as teachers and staff members so they can replicate the ideal Friendship PCS experience for students. 

“I was in a tough spot when I started,” Bowman said. “Teachers invested in me with additional time to complete work or [giving me] a safe place to nap. By the time I graduated, I had a few scholarships and the future looked up for me. I finished high school a lot stronger.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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1 Comment

  1. I have visit the school several times enjoy every minute of it speak to Miss price every time enjoyable teachers

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