The opening of the Baltimore Excel Center last week was a breath of fresh air for the city’s education system — an establishment that has encountered its share of challenges and faced harsh scrutiny in recent years.
Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake officially opened the Excel Center, a tuition-free high school for adults aged 21 and older, which is regarded as a major step toward filling an enormous gap in the local education system.
The grand opening, held on the morning of September 28, 2023 at the Excel Center’s site at 222 E. Redwood St. in downtown Baltimore, was highlighted by a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The event was attended by Goodwill executives, Excel Center students and educators, local politicians, philanthropists, community members and others.
According to Goodwill officials, an estimated 80,000 Baltimore City residents did not complete high school. A Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake press release also cites research indicating that adults without a high school diploma earn 70 percent less than their graduate counterparts.
September 28 marked the first day of classes for the Baltimore Excel Center’s initial wave of 150 students. The school — now the 38th Excel Center location that has opened in the U.S. — aims to double its enrollment in the coming years, officials said.
“We are proud to offer this first-of-its-kind free high school in Baltimore,” Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake CEO Lisa Rusyniak said. “We can’t wait to see the success stories that will emerge from this life-changing experience.”
Goodwill created the Excel Center as a transformative effort that will enable numerous Baltimore-area residents to receive a Maryland State Department of Education-accredited high school diploma along with helping them access post-secondary education and careers in growing, sustainable industries.
During the 30-minute ceremony, Rusyniak shared remarks, along with Excel Center students Shamar Rice and Trimiea Cannady, lead teacher DaShawn Archer, Goodwill Board Chair Joe Durham and a few others. Following the ribbon-cutting, event guests went on tours, enjoyed refreshments and conversed amongst themselves.
Cannady, a mother of three, said she would like to pursue seminary school after graduation. She is also considering going into the pharmaceutical industry.
“This [academic program] is going to make a world of a difference,” said Cannady, a native of Northeast Baltimore. “I just want to be an example of what a strong Black woman can do.”
Rice is a Baltimore club dancer and actor. He dropped out of high school three times due to distractions and negative influences, he said. This time around, he is determined to stay the course.
“I came to the Excel Center because I wanted to further my education. I didn’t know it was possible for adults 21 and over to receive a high school diploma,” said Rice, adding that he was just accepted into AMDA College of Performing Arts in Los Angeles.
“Being the first male in my family, or anybody in my family period, to get accepted into college or actually went to college… I’m breaking two generational curses so I’m very proud of myself.”
The Excel Center’s academic programs are self-paced and last up to 24 months, including training and certificates for high-growth industries. The school offers free drop-in childcare, transportation assistance, flexible class schedules, life counseling and job training.
Enrollment is open to adults who are at least 21 years old and reside in Maryland. The oldest student enrolled at the Baltimore Excel Center is 80 years old, according to Ari Minyard, the school’s registrar.
“Our impact in Baltimore is going to be huge,” said Archer, who specializes in English and Language Arts (ELA).
“It’s unfortunate that a lot of students have dropped out of school in Baltimore City. However, we are here to give them a second chance. We are here to tell them, ‘hey, this is a new adventure, this is a new journey that you will come to in life and we’re trying to get you to the next level – whether it’s economically, socially, academically, mentally.’ We’re here to get students to the next level in order to thrive and meet their future goals and needs.”
Each term lasts eight weeks, according to Archer. The Excel Center’s building is seven floors, but four floors are being utilized at the moment. The school has six teachers, three life coaches, three administrators and a career readiness counselor.
Ensuring students attend the school free of charge, the Baltimore Excel Center will be funded by an amalgamation of federal, state and philanthropic entities totaling more than $4.5 million.