Rev. P.M. Smith, Founder
H.O.P.E. Academy and the Huber Child Development Center
We are a “Christian Revolution in Traditional Education.”
We were founded on the vision and mission of:
• Rescuing the Children;
• Redeeming the Family; and
• Recreating the Community
Here at H.O.P.E. Academy and the Huber Child Development Center “We Expect Excellence!”
BALTIMORE (WBFF) — Baltimore City has struggled, for decades, to find solutions to declining population, increasing crime, and generational poverty. One community leader believes the answer to a better future lies in the past.
Reverend P.M. Smith was born in Baltimore in the 1940s and knows the city well.
“I’ve only ever lived in east Baltimore,” said Smith, as he drove through the neighborhood, pointing out drug dealers on the corner. “I live four-tenths of a mile from where I was born.”
But Smith grew up in a Baltimore that’s very different from the one he lives in today.
“One of the things is the breakdown of the family. We always have to start there,” Smith said. “No consequences here or there. So, the result is going to be what? Courts, courtrooms, incarceration. Right? We in trouble.”
When Smith was young, in the 1950s, most households, including his own, had two parents. The community worked together to look out for each other’s children.
“We never had enough money. There were six kids,” Smith recalled. “But there was one message from my parents and from everybody in my community, ‘Boy, you got to get your education. If you get your education, nobody can take it from you.’”
Back then, Baltimore was a robust city with nearly 400,000 more residents than it has today. But, while it was thriving, it was also segregated.
“Secondhand facilities, secondhand books, secondhand furniture, but I had first-class teachers,” Smith said.
As a teenager, Smith was part of the third integrated class to attend high school at City College.
“That previous generation was aware of segregation and the coming of integration, and they made a decision to prepare some of us to enter those integrated schools and represent our people,” said Smith.
He believes the public school system in Baltimore was better in 1950 than it is today.
“The standard there was mastery,” he said. “If you didn’t master the subject matter between September and December, you repeated it.”
After graduation, Smith attended Coppin State and later earned a law degree from the University of Michigan. Then, he returned to Baltimore.
“It was almost like I was programmed to come back,” he said. “This is a community, the community I grew up in, not only birthed me, but they buoyed me. They elevated me and lifted me up, and they set boundaries for me,” said Smith.
In the mid-80s, Smith realized his life was meant for a different purpose. He left his law career and became pastor of Huber Memorial Church in northeast Baltimore. A few years later, he opened H.O.P.E. Academy.
“Because that’s the only way you affect change,” Smith explained. “You cannot do it from the outside. You can only do it from the inside. And too many in my generation got up, got out, and did not come back.”
Smith’s goal at H.O.P.E is to educate current students the way he was educated 65 years ago.
“Now, I’m looking at that looking back, and that is something that we need now. Excellence, mastery, a standard that doesn’t deviate, a standard that challenges young folk to measure up to it,” said Smith.
H.O.P.E. is a K-5 elementary school, where nearly 100 percent of its 175 students are African American from single-parent homes. Families pay $4,400 a year to attend. Huber Memorial matches that, for a total per student cost of about $9,000. As a comparison, this year, Baltimore City Schools will spend about $21,606 for each of its roughly 77,000 students.
“Money does not solve the problem. Throw all the money you want,” said Smith.
H.O.P.E. focuses on the basics of math and reading. Baltimore City Public Schools has what’s known as a 50% rule, meaning students cannot receive below a 50 no matter how little work they do. But H.O.P.E Academy does not have that rule. Students are expected to learn the material before they’re promoted.
“We value education in a culture that really doesn’t,” said Smith. “We value education because we know that’s the key to the future.”
H.O.P.E. Academy recently celebrated its 25th year. Smith is in his 75th. And he plans to spend the rest of his years right here, trying to improve his city.
“My wife gave me a challenge. If you’re not going to make things better, we got to move. So, I accepted the challenge and tried to make things better,” Smith explained. “We owe the next generation, at least what the previous generation gave us, a basic foundational education upon which we can build and springboard, springboard to the next level. It’s critical.”