By: Molly Schreier
Features Editor

On January 22, 2018, Hammond High School was named a 2017 “School of Opportunity” by the National Education Policy Center (Boulder, Colorado) (NEPC). The NEPC acknowledges that most school recognition favors schools whose students are affluent and have high access to opportunities. This award instead recognizes schools who close opportunity gaps and are dedicated to equity.

The Washington Post article that announced Hammond’s award described why Hammond won: “Hammond’s impressive curriculum is grounded in rich, project-based learning. The school has eliminated its low-track classes and significantly increased African American enrollment in its AP courses.”

The team that put together the application for the award–Ms. Leonard, Ms. Dunn, Ms. Isch, and Ms. Metzbower–however, know the specific qualities of Hammond that won us the award.hahs-school-opportunity-students

In order to win the Silver School award, schools must demonstrate advanced or exemplary practices in accordance with the first two criteria, which are required of all schools, and then must choose four of the remaining criteria from 3 through 8.  The first step of the process for Hammond was to choose which categories to compete under and to gather supporting documents and evidence of these criteria. The team reached out to teachers to gather lesson plans, information and statistics on the programs they run, examples of assignments, and more.  Many teachers were involved in the creation of the application. In fact, Ms. Dunn cites the wide breadth of involvement as one of the reasons Hammond won: “When you look at the evidence across the board, it’s not the stuff that I do, it’s not the stuff Ms. Isch does, it’s the stuff that everyone does.  We had so many teachers connected with all of these different things we submitted, it’s clearly a whole school that is doing stuff, it’s not a few teachers.”

Hammond sent in so many documents, the team actually surpassed the limit on how many documents could be submitted–a limit no other school has ever reached.


  1. Broaden and Enrich Learning Opportunities, with Particular Attention to Reducing Disparities in Learning Created by Tracking and Ability Grouping

Hammond efforts in this criterion include have two teachers in specific classrooms to support learning (Co-teaching), the Step It Up initiative to encourage students to push themselves, inclusion rates in advanced classes (despite the disproportionate number of caucasian students in AP classes, the rates of minority students in AP classes has been increasing and Hammond has been tracking these numbers).

2. Create and Maintain a Healthy School Culture, with Attention to Diversity and to Reassessing Student Discipline Policies

Includes Hammond’s restorative discipline plans, learning resources for suspended students, including flags in the hallways to create an inclusive environment, Mix-It-Up Day, the 2016-2017 African American Advanced Placement focus group (to understand the experience of students and what needs to be done), Black History Month, Student Leadership Cadre, presentations to teachers on transgender students, and the Stop the Silence, Start a Conversation movement.

3. Provide More and Better Learning Time During the School Year and Summer

This criterion highlights programs such as credit recovery, extended school day programs with student transportation (Homework Club and Algebra II Bootcamp), senior and college workshop series that specifically target African-American communities, Summer Geometry (which allows students to accelerate their math program over the summer, as it is impossible to bump-up a math class during the year), and Bright Minds, a laptop program that Hammond applied for that supplies students without the necessary resources laptops.

4. Use a Variety of Assessments Designed to Respond to Student Needs

Lesson plans, interesting and different assignments, and varied instruction methods were sent in to show the variety of ways Hammond’s teachers support learning.
5. Support Teachers as Professionals Hammond supports teachers in a number of important ways, including teacher-led professional development, a support system for new teachers, a summer technology team run by Ms. Holly, the Teacher Leadership Cadre, Professional Learning Communities, and Advanced Placement Teacher meetings.
10.  Sustain Equitable and Meaningful Parent and Community Engagement Hammond has a robust parent community, including the PTSA and Boosters, the Golden Bear Mentor Program (which has evolved into Mascot Time during Bear Time), the Ninth-Grade Meet and Greet, the AP Potential Night for parents, parent-student empowerment workshops, FAFSA nights, and the PTSA Stop the Silence, Start a Conversation discussion and activities.

Once Hammond made it to the second round, the National Education Policy Center sent evaluators from University of Maryland, College Park to see if the application proved true in person.  After being shown a presentation which described student experiences and specific programs at Hammond, such as the summer Geometry program which allows students accelerate their math courses over the summer and Hammond’s impressive ESOL program, the evaluators were taken on a tour by seniors Madhu Nallani and Melissa Dankwa to experience Hammond firsthand.  They visited Mrs. Osborne’s Algebra I class, where the evaluators were surprised to see students excited and engaged during their group quiz. In an ESOL class, they watched the strong focus of students as Ms. Sumihara taught the proper structure of a paragraph. With Ms. Brown, they discussed her efforts to help AP students step up their game and raise low grades and observed students preparing presentations which they would use to teach each other course material.    

What the evaluators saw most, though, was the environment and energy of Hammond.  Asked why Hammond primarily won, Ms. Dunn said, “I think coming in and talking to the students, hearing the students speak…You walk into Hammond and you have a certain atmosphere that comes up.  Students overall feel valued and welcomed, and that’s one of the big things.” Madhu felt similarly: We come here with smiling faces, we’re excited to be here.  They really saw that.”

In reflecting on Hammond’s role on her life, Melissa became emotional as she delivered a speech announcing the reward when she thought of the strong personal relationships she has with her teachers.  She said, “These teachers have known me for almost four years, and if I have any issue I feel completely comfortable going up and talking to them. I tell my teachers some things I can’t even tell my parents, which is kind of amazing.  I don’t think I could find this anywhere else.”

While there is hope that the increased recognition and attention towards Hammond will help secure more resources for the school, the award will definitely contribute to changing the narrative around Hammond.  In describing the impact of this award, Ms. Dunn said, “I think it changes the dynamic of how people look at Hammond. Hammond is a school that a lot of people in the county who don’t know, who don’t have kids that come here, it’s like ‘that school.’  We’re not necessarily like River Hill or Centennial who have these top scores. I feel like we’re more powerful than than. We have a more meaningful experience for students, and it’s really one where students are cared for and supported, and with that the majority of our students connect in some way…It’s not an island, it’s not isolated like some of the other schools, it’s not about the test scores, it’s about the experience and learning and wanting to learn and caring about humanity…So it’s not just that we’re that crazy school.  Now people who have not experienced Hammond have to realize that we have value.”

For Melissa, she hopes this award will help Hammond continue to support its students.  I do think it’ll keep the atmosphere of Hammond going.  I hope every kid gets to experience my experience at Hammond because it’s been great.”