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Alma adjusts its own name and will name new campuses for Frederick Douglass and Sarah Ottiwell

Date Published: August 13, 2019

Author: Aimee Chiavaroli

NEW BEDFORD — Alma del Mar will rename both itself and its two campuses.

Its new school, which will open on Monday, will be named after Frederick Douglass, the renowned 19th abolitionist who first lived in New Bedford after he escaped from slavery; its original school, which opened in 2011, will be named after Sarah D. Ottiwell, the district public school whose building Alma first occupied when it opened in the city.

Alma will now be known as Alma Del Mar Charter Schools or just Alma del Mar.

The campuses will be referred to the following way, according to Director of Development Becca Kurie: “Alma del Mar: Sarah D. Ottiwell Campus (or Ottiwell Campus for short)” and “Alma del Mar: Frederick Douglass Campus (Or Douglass Campus for short).”

February 2018 marked Frederick Douglass’ 200th birthday. Some have thought there’s a lack of knowledge and appreciation in New Bedford about the African-American leader. Others have suggested that a New Bedford district public school be named after him but that never happened.

The Ottiwell School first opened in 1918 but was closed in 2011. Alma occupied it until 2016 when it was demolished after Alma built its flagship campus on an adjacent North End lot.

Ottiwell taught for nearly 35 years in New Bedford, according to an Alma news release. The second and new Alma campus, temporarily located in Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception’s former school building, is the one that will be named in honor of Douglass.

“I’m proud that our Board chose to name our campuses after two people in the community who represent Alma’s values and commitment to service-minded leadership,” said Jan Baptist, chairperson of Alma’s Board of Trustees.

Executive Director Will Gardner noted that generations of New Bedford children attended the Ottiwell School.

“We hope to honor those school experiences while also celebrating the continued use of the site for educating generations to come,” Gardner said in a statement.

Kurie said the name Alma Del Mar Charter Schools is not a hint at future plans.

Last year the school applied for 1,188 seats and requested to open two more schools, but it was granted a 594-seat single school instead, after the state education commissioner pulled the plug on a 450-seat neighborhood charter school that Alma had arranged with the city and the New Bedford district school system. Alma did not ask for additional seats this year.

Frederick Douglass’ powerful spoken and written testimony is a fixture in Alma’s curriculum as students across grade levels study his work and life each year, the news release stated.

The Frederick Douglass Campus will open to 200 children in K-2 and 6th grade Aug. 19.

“Frederick Douglass fought for the opportunity to learn to read and write at a time when educating Black people was against the law,” said Lee Blake, president of the New Bedford Historical Society in the Alma press release. “His struggle for freedom and social justice will be an inspiration to our youth who will lead the change the world needs to tackle injustice.”