Project Baltimore goes inside Pitbull’s charter school
A new way to educate our kids may soon be coming to Baltimore. It’s a charter school that uses sports to motivate students, and the person behind it, is a world famous entertainer who you might know as Pitbull.
When we heard that SLAM Academy wanted to come to Baltimore, we went to Miami to see the first SLAM that opened in Little Havana four years ago. We wanted to see what makes it different, if it’s working and if it would work here.
We watched as the class of 2017 walked across the stage to get their diplomas after starting their journey at SLAM four years ago as the first freshman class.
“You are beating what people think about us,” SLAM Principal Francisco Jimenez told the graduating seniors.
SLAM, or Sports Leadership and Management Academy, is a little Havana Charter School championed by Armando Christian Perez, known as Pitbull. Most of the students are from Little Havana, but they got a life-changing opportunity. Perez thinks Baltimore students deserve the same.
“I think Baltimore is one of those cities that needs SLAM the most,” he says. “It’s obvious to see they are going through a lot and have been through a lot in Baltimore.”
The SLAM students in Miami have been through a lot too, and for the past four years, they’ve had something to prove.
Of the 105 students who walked across the stage, 102 of them got accepted into college. The other three, are going into the military.
“People want to be a part of this,” says Jimenez.
SLAM is a school with a sports-based curriculum, where physics is taught using the flight of a baseball and geometry angles are laid out on a basketball court.
“You’re spinning the traditional education model and you’re embedding it with sports” Jimenez says. “It’s the same thing, getting to the same point. But for some reason, the kids seem to relate.”
SLAM is also a school where more than 90 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch. They live in a city with similar urban challenges to Baltimore, including homelessness and a high crime rate.
“A lot of people just assume these kids are in this neighborhood, this is as far as they get,” Jimenez says. “And I’m like, no.”
Project Baltimore compared SLAM to the closest public schools, and we found just about every state test score is higher. At SLAM, 50% of students pass 7th Grade Language Arts, compared to 38% and 18% at the other schools.
In 7th grade Math, half the students pass at SLAM Academy, compared to 31% and 27% at the other schools.
Graduation rates yield similar results. This year, SLAM graduated 96% of its students. The two closest Little Havana high schools graduated 76% and 81% last year.
Project Baltimore sat down with Rene Ruiz, the president of the expanding SLAM Network. What started in 2013 as one school in Little Havana, will grow to seven in three states by this fall.
Now, SLAM wants to come to Baltimore, a district that spends $16,000 per student every year, the fourth highest in the country. Yet, Baltimore City Schools have chronically low test scores and graduation rates.
“Clearly, throwing money at the problem doesn’t solve it or else the problem would be solved,” Ruiz says. “You’d have the fourth highest outcomes in the country, but you don’t.”
Now, with Perez hoping to open a SLAM in Baltimore, we asked the rapper whether he thinks the model will work here.
“I think absolutely it would work,” he told us. “The kids need it. The neighborhoods need it. The community needs it.”