Jai Richardson currently attends George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, studying art. But the 18-year-old freshman from Laurel recalled part of his elementary education at Robert Goddard Montessori School.
“We had 10 blocks. We learned how to do addition, subtraction, multiplication and division using those 10 blocks,” he said Wednesday. “Instead of just putting a bunch of work [in front of] you, teachers take the time to teach you critical thinking and problem-solving. Learning different types of math applications through blocks. It’s a creative way to teach and that’s what you get at a Montessori school.”
Richardson rallied with more than 100 people Wednesday outside the Prince George’s County Public Schools Administration Building in Upper Marlboro to protest relocating Goddard staff and students next school year from its building in Seabrook about seven miles away to the former Meadowbrook Elementary School in Bowie.
Goddard parents such as Carlene James felt blindsided because they said they learned of the final decision on another school’s social media page.
“We’ve shared with another school before. The end-all solution is we would love to remain at Robert Goddard Montessori and we are willing to share with Hyattsville Middle School,” James said standing near her 12-year-old daughter, Celine, a sixth grader at Goddard.
“[Meadowbrook School] doesn’t compare to what we have now. The school cannot accommodate us.”
About 1,000 students in grades six through eight from Hyattsville Middle School would move into Goddard while construction takes place to build a new Hyattsville Middle scheduled for completion in 2023.
Goddard houses about 500 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade.
According to a letter dated Monday from school board member Joshua Thomas to public schools CEO Monica Goldson, parents and retired teachers at Goddard outlined how Meadowbrook “has facilities that are sub-par for [a student’s] needs.” Some of them are:
• No gymnasium, locker rooms, middle school science labs, band and orchestra rooms.
• Smaller and fewer classrooms.
• A new HVAC system recently installed at Goddard.
“A school getting displaced like this without feeling like they weren’t a part of the decision [and] without feeling like their voices weren’t heard is unacceptable to me,” Thomas said at the rally. “I was flooded with outreach from concerned parents. I think the administration needs to reconsider its decision and engage the community in the process to whatever [officials] decide moving forward.”
A few hours after the rally, school officials held a virtual town hall to explain the school system’s decision.
A PowerPoint presentation highlighted some of the challenges in housing students from Hyattsville Middle School at Goddard such as adding 10 temporary trailers, requiring teachers to use carts to transport materials from various classrooms and limiting space for after-school and extracurricular activities.
In terms of possible bus transportation, the average travel time to Meadowbrook may increase by five minutes from 30 to 35.
Although Goddard has shared its space with other schools in prior years, school officials said it won’t work this time due to limited space.
Kristil Fossett, area 2 instructional director of K-8 specialty programs, said she worked with the school’s principal and asked for the school to have its own space. Deatrice Womack, principal of the school who spoke for a few minutes during the town hall, didn’t dispute the statement.
“This was not an easy decision, but it is the right decision,” Fossett said about the transition for both schools.
Another meeting will be held the week of March 22 with PTSA representatives from both Goddard and Hyattsville Middle School.