Dreaming Big at Howard University Middle School

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Holding the straps of their backpacks, the two students walked side by side through the main gate of Howard University.

The pair then nodded to each other and split up, the taller one turning left to start their day as a college student and the other continuing forward to Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science.

That is where Principal Corbet Houston warmly greets his sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders each morning to set a welcoming tone. He loves that students are able to start each day in a higher education setting—and perhaps visualize themselves there someday—because of the school’s unique location on a picturesque college campus.

But once inside the middle school’s building, Houston’s goal is to help bring out the best in each individual student in meaningful ways that extend beyond academics. Houston wants all students that enter HUMS to be recognized, celebrated, and valued by themselves and by others.

“For years to come, these kids will usually remember more of how we made them feel versus what comes out of our mouth,” Houston said. “I still have those positive feelings about some of my middle school teachers.”

Houston and his passionate team of educators work throughout the year on how to best serve the whole student. The goal is for all students to have the knowledge and skills to choose their own path in life, use the world around them to direct this path, and consider the ways they can give back to the world along the way.

‘I want to make a difference’

Tyler Branch and Annikah Akpan are two Howard University Middle School eighth-graders who plan to make a positive impact throughout their lives. Tyler has visions of traveling to various countries as a public speaker while also being an orthopedic surgeon. Annikah’s career goal is to be a criminal justice lawyer.

“I want to make a difference,” Tyler said.

“I want to help people and be a known face they can trust,” Annikah said.

But both Tyler and Annikah plan to work towards those lofty goals by first taking advantage of all that HUMS has to offer. They’re excited each day to walk into school (after nearly an hour commute on buses and trains) because of the trust they have in their teachers and the tight-knit community that Houston has helped form.

“The teachers make you feel comfortable, like you’re at home,” Tyler said.

As a seventh-grader, Tyler introduced the Deputy Secretary of Education, Cindy Marten, before nearly 1,000 educators at the National Blue Ribbon Schools Awards Ceremony in Maryland. As he stood at the podium, Tyler thought of the advice given to him by his HUMS teachers and it helped calm his nerves.

“Howard definitely gave me the confidence to not only want to do it, but to have dreams to keep giving speeches like that in the future,” Tyler said. “That was definitely a day to remember.”

Curious, self-directed, and purposeful learners

Each week, students set goals for themselves and discuss their progress during one-on-one mentoring sessions with a trusted adult through the Summit Learning program. These regular check-ins play a large role in helping students become curious, self-directed, and purposeful learners

Along with helping students navigate academics, the real-world skills are also on display and worked on in non-classroom settings such as lunchtime.

“I love spending time in the cafeteria because there are so many little moments in there where you connect with students and help strengthen those relationships,” said assistant principal Ebony Brown, who also taught at HUMS. “You see their personalities more in the cafeteria and once the relationship is established, it helps students apply what you tell them in the classroom.”

From the hallway on the top floor—where the U.S. Capitol building can be seen in the distance—to the physical education classes outdoors, Howard University Middle School’s community is filled with like-minded educators who celebrate the unique gifts and talents of each individual student.

“I see myself in every one of these kids, simply because I am from this city, born and raised, and I went to college on this campus,” said PE teacher Essence Brown, a former women’s basketball player at Howard University. “I’m so excited to see the growth of these children in all areas because it’s not just about math and science here.

“It’s about getting them to where they need to be in life.”

About the author

Summit Learning
Summit Learning is a research–based approach to education designed to drive student engagement, meaningful learning, and strong student–teacher relationships that prepare students for life after graduation. Created by teachers with experience in diverse classrooms, Summit Learning is grounded in decades of research about how children learn. With Summit Learning, students gain mastery of core subjects like math, history, English, and science, while also carefully developing the skills and habits of lifelong learners. Summit Learning is independently led and operated by the nonprofit, Gradient Learning.