This month, Middle Schoolers of the Friends School of Baltimore fanned out across the city and surrounding areas for Quaker Community Day, a time when students and teachers put aside their planners and laptops to engage in hands-on service and environmental stewardship. From harvesting crops for the hungry at First Fruits Farm and reading to children at Govans Elementary School, to protecting trails from invasive species at Irvine Nature Center, the Friends students rolled up their sleeves and immersed themselves in the work and camaraderie of the day.
In the city’s historic Jonestown neighborhood, three homerooms arriving in a yellow school bus unloaded boxes of gently used books and filed into the McKim Community Center, where they were greeted by Upper School teacher and Quaker activist Amy Schmaljohn and McKim Center staff LaShawn Evans and Tae Hwang. Calling attention to the building’s high ceilings and now-crumbling Neoclassical columns, Schmaljohn shared how the Quaker philanthropist Isaac McKim had purposefully ordered the construction of Baltimore’s first free school in 1821 to align with the architectural style of the city’s banks and other esteemed institutions. “He believed in education for all and wanted people to know that this was an important building,” she told the gathering.
The advent of public education in the 1890s ushered the facility into its next era, as the city’s first free kindergarten. “The magic of this space is that it has changed and evolved as the needs of the community changed,” she explained, noting that today the McKim Center serves the community in other ways, as a thriving afterschool and summer camp program.
Although the Friends contingent had not planned for it, the day took on special meaning when local elementary students, on half-day from school, arrived at noon. While pockets of Friends students shelved picture books and young adult novels for the center’s modest collection or read aloud to preschoolers in a colorfully painted classroom, the rest of the group spilled out back onto the playground where a spirited game of mixed-team kickball commenced.
Amid the screams and laughter — and the clatter of construction crews working on the adjacent Ronald McDonald House — one could imagine a similar scene playing out on this patch of land nearly 200 years ago; with children of all nationalities and backgrounds laughing and playing at recess, just as Isaac McKim had envisioned.
Now in its 234th year, Friends School of Baltimore is a college preparatory Quaker school serving students in Pre-K – 12th grade. Friends’ commitment to coeducation is grounded in the School’s centuries’ old Quaker practice of seeking truth from many sources. Simply put, we believe students gain a deeper understanding of complex issues when dialogue is informed by the full range of human experience.