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SPOTLIGHT | revitalization Hallowed Halls for a New Generation Now home to Bricolage Academy, the historic John McDonogh High School building gleams after an extensive restoration STORY BY Susan Langenhennig | A WIGGLY GROUP of fourth graders sat cross-legged on a colorful rug as teacher Raven Bell called for attention. It was a gray morning in late September at Bricolage Academy, a charter school now housed in the historic John McDonogh School building on Esplanade Avenue. On a large sheet of paper, Bell had written the words community and empathy. “Empathy,” she read, “is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Community is a group of people who care about each other and are working toward the same goal.” As Bell engaged the students in a discussion about what the words meant to them, wiggles slowed and hands shot in the air. Standing in the doorway, Bricolage’s founder and executive director Josh Densen peeked into the class. “We need to teach kids to have empathy, student agency and respon- sible autonomy,” Densen said. “Our mission is to advance educational equality by creating innovators, and we do that through an environment that is teamwork-oriented, collaborative, creative and fun.” Bricolage, a six-year-old charter school, has plenty of room to create that environment since it moved into the historic John McDonogh High School campus in September. The school building was transformed with a $35 million renovation that replaced all of its aging plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems, rebuilt every original window, restored its century-old façade, refinished the hardwood floors, polished and upgraded the auditorium and in- stalled state-of-the-art educational technology. The result is a gleaming modern campus emerging from the chrysalis of a stately 106-year-old building. That’s a far cry from the structure that some former students and 16 PRESERVATION IN PRINT • www.prcno.org PHOTOS BY Liz Jurey teachers remember, with its leaking windows, aging infrastructure and temperature swings from spotty air-conditioning. “It was old, it was rusted, and in the winter, you had your coats on in class,” said Felicia Moran-Washington, a proud John McDonogh alumna who graduated in 1995. Though the building has been through several capital improvement projects over the past century, it’s never had such an extensive restora- tion. Seeing the change was emotional for Moran-Washington, who got a tour of the property from Densen at the start of the school year. “It was mind-blowing,” she said of the changes. “I’m glad it got fixed and is still going to be a school.” This year, Bricolage is serving 575 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grades; its enrollment is 53 percent children of color and 47 percent white. That diverse student body is a big change for the historic building. From the building's opening in 1912 un- til 1969, it served only white students. By the mid-1970s until it closed in 2014, John McDonogh’s student body was predominately African-American. Densen has made a concerted effort to ensure John McDonogh's story isn’t lost as the building turns a new chapter. Bricolage is adopt- ing the “John Mac” Trojan as its mascot and the former school’s green and gold as its colors. Densen also plans to turn the third floor landing into an alumni showcase filled with John McDonogh’s awards. “The RSD (Recovery School District) saved all the old trophies,” he said, “and we plan to bring them here.” NOVEMBER 2018