After struggling to maintain stellar grades throughout the pandemic, Traque Shepherd started his senior year at The Monroe School eager to establish professional connections during field trips and discover how to eventually become an airplane mechanic.
Over the next few weeks, he’ll confer with teachers and staff about the best path to take on that professional endeavor.
Since entering The Monroe School four years ago, Traque has grown academically and emotionally under the guidance of these very same instructors and administrators who he said helped him understand the importance of his schoolwork, and provided extra help when he requested it.
“They helped me see a different perspective,” said Traque, a 17-year-old Northeast resident.
“When you’re younger, you don’t really see the road all the way, but when you get older you can see it more clearly. They cleared that path for me [when] I was being young and not really paying attention.”
The Monroe School, a private school perched atop a hill along Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue in Northeast, currently has less than 50 students between the sixth and 12th grade who receive individually tailored, one-on-one instruction from teachers of various disciplines.
This model reflects The Monroe School’s mission to pinpoint students’ greatest abilities and provide coursework that leads to connections to post-secondary opportunities.
It builds upon the legacy of Dr. Nannie Helen Burroughs, a 20th century educator and activist who launched and operated a vocational training institute for young Black women in the same building.
During the pandemic, The Monroe School, like other institutions, faced financial challenges when enrollment dropped as some students juggled parenting and work obligations.
Even as school administrators accommodated the needs of the students, The Monroe School achieved accreditation from the Middle States Association along with the National Security Association and National Science Foundation’s GenCyber Grant that allowed for cybersecurity instruction.
The Monroe School also garnered the attention of NBA star Kyrie Irving’s K.A.I. Family Foundation, which contributed a substantial amount of money and resources to the school earlier this year.
Such developments paved the way for administrators at The Monroe School to gradually acclimate students to full-time, in-person learning.
As part of what was called “the hub,” some students entered the school building during last school year for one-on-one help that supplemented their virtual instruction.
The Monroe School also provided mental health resources for young people reeling from the quarantine. These arrangements continued into the 2021-2022 school year, buttressing standards imposed by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.
“We want to build our students back up to where they’re supposed to be and make sure they’re socially and mentally in a position to do what they’re supposed to do academically,” said Dr. Ruth Logan, maiden executive director.
“We provide any kind of mental health assistance that’s needed so our students are able to reach their full capacity,” she added. “We hope to get them back on board successfully as they transition to a brick-and-mortar setting.”
Resources Effective Before and During the Pandemic
Data released by the DC Policy Center earlier this year suggested that the pandemic exacerbated young people’s adverse experiences via their parents’ tenuous economic situation, the trauma of COVID and social isolation.
Students in large households also faced challenges in accessing technology for virtual learning and mitigating the spread of COVID.
Tyki Irving, executive director of the K.A.I. Family Foundation said such conditions highlight the need for The Monroe School.
She told The Informer that, in addition to its mission, The Monroe School launched its College and Career Readiness Program that piqued her colleagues’ interest because of the way it countered the negativity often facing young people. .
“We need to create places for children to be successful,” Irving said.
“One of the things we talked about is the belief that each child is a unique individual who needs a unique atmosphere to grow emotionally, intellectually, physically, and mentally,” she added. “Those are key components when dealing with Black and brown children.”
D’Armani Barnett, a 2021 graduate of The Monroe School, credited her alma mater with quelling her anger and keeping her focused on her college and career goals.
She enrolled in The Monroe School to follow in the footsteps of her father who also gained an education on the campus when the Nannie Helen Burroughs School was in operation.
In July, Barnett walked across the stage as class salutatorian.
That journey, she said, didn’t come without its hurdles. The pandemic took its toll on Barnett, who worked to raise her grades after they dipped during her junior year. As she juggles a part-time job and her studies at Prince George’s Community College, Barnett reflects on the lessons and the people who helped her get back on track.
“Teachers have no problem helping you with anything,” Barnett told The Informer.
“They take their time helping you get on the right path. If you don’t want to go to school, they can help you find a path that’s productive. They even help students and do things for them that they don’t get paid [to do].”