• Our 360 Staff

Denver high school hopes to re-create HBCU experience for students and drive enrollment

A new public school in Denver hopes to encourage Black students to attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities with a curriculum and environment inspired by the campuses.


Last month, the Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy High School opened its doors with an inaugural freshman class enrolled to mirror the kinds of experiences that students typically find at historically Black colleges and universities.


“There is a persistent erasure of the Black experience, of Latinx and indigenous experiences in this nation and world. Our focus is to really center the experience of those of us who have been marginalized and minoritized,” said the school’s founding principal, Shakira Abney-Wisdom, to Denverite.


“We are not, by nature of our existence, ‘less than.’ But our stories have not been valued in the same ways.


“Our school’s existence is just an act of resilience and resistance to oppressive structures in society. This is a sanctuary, really, a safe space for our scholars to be all that they are, and to grow, to challenge themselves, to challenge one another, to accomplish the goals that they have.”


The “science, technology, engineering, and math” academy is named after notable billionaire Robert F. Smith, chemical engineer, investor, and graduate of a Denver public school.


In May 2019, Smith made headlines when he announced his pledge to cover the student loans and debt of Morehouse College’s 2019 graduating class. Loans taken by the students’ parents were also included. Co-founder Samantha Pryor shared how the initial plan was to name the facility after former First Lady Michelle Obama. She shared the high school was specifically opened in an area in need of educational resources. Students at the brand new institution have already expressed their desire to further their post-secondary education at an HBCU.


“We wanted to create a high-quality option in our neighborhood because a lot of our kids were going outside of our neighborhood, traveling long distances across the city, to find quality options,” said Pryor.


According to NBC Washington, enrollment at HBCUs has steadily increased. The global calls for racial justice and equality, as well as the current political climate, are cited as influential to student’s decision to attend Black colleges over other options.


“Our enrollment continues to rise and increase year over year,” said Bowie State University President Aminta Breaux. The Maryland campus experienced 8% increase in overall enrollment this fall. Breaux continued “We’re seeing more students from the West Coast, the Midwest, from the southern states.


Howard University in Washington D.C. had a more than 15% enrollment increase last year during the pandemic with a higher percentage expected this fall.


“This has the potential to be our largest freshman class ever … certainly in the last 30 years,” Howard Provost and Chief Academic Officer Anthony Wutoh said.

Celebrities and their families have also caught the HBCU bug. Toni Braxton’s son Diezel is set to join the incoming class at Howard. Master P’s son, Hercy Miller, has committed to playing basketball for the Tennessee State University Tigers. Former NBA champion J.R. Smith has himself enrolled at North Carolina A&T University, where he hopes to join the golf team.




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