Laurel’s Newest Elementary School Celebrates a Day of Firsts
Students begin classes, careers at brand new Chesapeake Math & IT Elementary by Alice Popovici

Tuesday morning as schools across Prince George’s filled with nervous students and their parents, crisp new backpacks and high expectations for a new year, the pale green hallways at Chesapeake Math & IT Elementary in Laurel were no different.

But for the new kindergarten through fifth-grade public charter school known as CMIT, Tuesday was the first ever day at the county’s newest addition.

CMIT is the first STEM-focused public charter elementary school in the county, following in the footsteps of the Chesapeake Math & IT Academy in Laurel, which enrolls sixth through 12th-grade students, according to Prince George’s County Public School officials. A new middle school called Chesapeake Math & IT Academy South, based on the same educational philosophy, is opening this fall in Forestville.

“It’s kind of nice going to a new school, find new friends,” said James Butler, Jr., 6, of Bowie in his first-grade classroom. James added that he is excited about the school’s computers and its LEGO room, where students will work on engineering and technology projects based on a curriculum developed by the toy company.

Tomiko Butler said she and her husband, James Butler Sr., were excited about the school’s science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or STEM, focus.

James Butler Sr. said they decided to enroll James at the school after seeing how well their older daughter, 15, is doing academically after transferring from her public school to the Chesapeake Math & IT Academy in Laurel.

“He’ll be exposed to ecology … building ecosystems using frogs. I think it’s really neat in the first grade,” said Tomiko Butler, 46. “We’re happy the county is offering STEM schools. It opens up the whole world.”

Principal Treesa Elam-Respass said the school is structured to help students “to be critical thinkers, problem solvers and evidence-based decision makers.”

Aside from the LEGO room, the school features a soon-to-be-completed ecology lab with a turtle pond and plants as well as a room where they’ll be able to watch movies in 3-D.

Elam-Respass, a first-year principal who has worked as an educator for the past 18 years, said CMIT was brimming with excitement on the first day of school. She said she has tried to make curiosity and a thirst for knowledge part of the school’s culture.

“It’s important that our teachers are lifelong learners so they can teach and inspire lifelong learners,” she said.

Courtney Rhodes of Laurel, who is beginning her teaching career this year as a first-grade teacher at CMIT, said many of her 26 students were nervous on Tuesday as they settled into the classroom.

To make things fun, she said she picked a frog theme for her classroom, which had green chairs and frog-themed name tags for each child. She said the motto for her class is written on a board outside the room: “Leaping into First Grade.”

“I was very interested in being part of something new and exciting,” Rhodes said. “I’m looking forward to a great year.”