MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic a South Minneapolis school is breaking ground on a new building, as Friendship Academy of the Arts hopes to double its enrollment. But it was a different sort of groundbreaking.

This virtual groundbreaking featured students, parents, and school founders, all with their hats and shovels, taking part in this historic moment by watching at home.

Friendship Academy of the Arts was born 19 years ago out of a need to help close the achievement gap between white and black students in Minnesota. On Friday, it celebrated a new beginning, with a new building and scholars anxious to begin learning there.

Brothers Isiah and David Brown were looking forward to the new learning environment, with the former excited for “a new classroom, a new lunch room,” and the latter anticipating “new lockers, new food, new everything.”

The new building will not be far from the existing school and will feature state of the art equipment, a gym, outside play area and lockers.

Executive director Dr. B. Charvez Russell says he is proud of how far this school has come.

“In 2009-2010 we were ordered to close due to academic success, and we just made a complete turnaround. And from 2012 on we’ve been doing great up until the pinnacle in 2016, becoming a National Blue Ribbon school,” Russell said.

Friendship Academy of the Arts is a relationship-based school, that is providing child care for essential personnel like doctors, nurses and EMTs during the COVID-19 crisis.

“A big thing they integrate at Friendship is just the Friendship way, and how to be social and emotionally aware with their peers, and how to get along how to solve problems. And they really have high standards,” parent Terrence Brown said.

The new building will be for second through eighth grade; kindergartners and first graders will stay in the original building. The new school should be complete in time for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Reg Chapman