Reynaldo Paniagua (Mr. P) remembers intimately the moment he and his wife Badia chose E.L. Haynes for his children. “It was 2004. We were walking down 14th Street in Columbia Heights, and I see this tall woman talking to people outside of CVS. She was talking about a school.”
Mr. P had just moved to the neighborhood from a different part of town and was looking for a new school for his sons, Patrick, who would be entering the second grade, and Cody, who would be in Pre-K4. That tall woman was Jennie Niles.
Michael Hall and Anne Crowley had a similar experience. “She was so warm. Energetic. Thoughtful. She talked about building a school together in partnership with families. That was what we were looking for,” says Michael Hall, whose son Isaiah was in the founding Pre-K4 class.
Mr. P and Badia, alongside Michael and Anne, were part of the 138 founding families at E.L. Haynes in 2004, when the school started serving Pre-K4 – 2nd grade students in their first space in Columbia Heights.
“Those early years felt precious,” Michael recalls. “It was intimate.” In such a small community, everyone knew everyone else, from the teachers and staff, to students and families. Jennie remembers fondly the close-knit feel of the community. “There was a family that was dealing with some major issues—and the whole community just rallied around the family. Supporting childcare, pick up and drop off at school. Everything.”
“The founding families really were excited about building a school together. We had plans for a lot of exciting things—an intentionally diverse community, expeditionary learning. But, I doubt any of them thought they would send their elementary school students to a school atop a CVS on one of the busiest intersections in the city, and with a postage stamp of outdoor space. It really was a testament to their commitment and their passion,” Jennie recalls.
The founding families felt intimately involved in all aspects of the school, and it was this collaboration that attracted many families. Mr. P and Badia were no exception. After their eldest son, Patrick, joined E.L. Haynes, they began volunteering wherever and whenever he could. “Mr. P was and is amazing. When starting a new school there is so much to be done. From putting together furniture to building and painting to maintenance. He, along with another founding family member, Jim WIlson, made sure everything worked,” Jennie Niles says. Then, Mr. P started as the soccer coach, working and playing with the students at a nearby field.
After all of his and Badia’s volunteering, Mr. P eventually joined the staff of E.L. Haynes as our Facilities Manager. He even brought his brother Silvestre, and his sister-in-law, Isela, to join him on our facilities team. And though his sons, Patrick and Cody, attended Wilson High School, he has continued to ensure the buildings are maintained and operational, and is a beloved member of the staff community. Patrick graduated from the University of Vermont in 2019, and Cody is a POSSE Scholar at the University of Wisconsin.
Michael and Anne found ways to get involved early on too, and exemplified that phrase “partnership” that many of the founding families used to describe Haynes in the nascent years. When they met Jennie, they had just left their jobs at a large architecture firm and had gone out on their own to start Studio Crowley Hall. And in Haynes, in the excitement of all the growth Jennie was talking about, they found ways to use their skills to support the school. Michael joined the board and advised the school throughout our major projects—building out the space above the CVS, the Georgia Avenue location, and finally the Kansas Avenue location.
Many families who joined the community in our early days believe that E.L. Haynes left an indelible mark on their students. “When I look at my two boys, I know that they have grown into the young men that they are because of E.L. Haynes. Their leadership, their confidence. They value diversity. They care about their community. They fight for what’s right,” Ted Smith says about his two sons, who both attended E.L. Haynes from Pre-K through 8th grade.
Anne and Michael’s sons have stayed with E.L. Haynes since the beginning, their oldest, Isaiah graduated in 2019, Sam will graduate as part of the class of 2020, and Eli, their youngest is entering 9th grade. When they reflect on why Haynes and why they’ve stayed part of the community for so long: “It’s a magical place,” Michael says. It has been a shared experience, but a personalized one for the boys. Each one needed something very different, and each one has received it at E.L. Haynes. I’ve been able to watch them all become the best versions of themselves. It is the power of the school and the community.”