DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee (center) and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (right) sample some treats, courtesy of Ballou Senior High School students in the Southeast-based school's culinary arts academy. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee (center) and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (right) sample some treats, courtesy of Ballou Senior High School students in the Southeast-based school's culinary arts academy. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

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A monthslong, community-led school redesign process promises the expansion and diversification of educational opportunities for young people attending Ward 8’s two public high schools, both of which are in the throes of an ongoing campaign to attract and retain students from feeder schools in its surrounding neighborhoods.

By the 2021-2022 academic year, students at Anacostia High School and Ballou Senior High School will navigate fully operational programs connecting them with opportunities beyond school grounds and equipping them with credentials desired in lucrative industries.

For students at Ballou, the school redesign, currently in its pilot phase, builds upon career academies that have long been available to students.

“We engaged more than 1,000 people in our community and heard them say that they want real-world learning that infuses technology and reflects students’ interests,” Willie Jackson, principal and alumnus of Ballou High School, said Friday during a gathering in a space utilized by students in the culinary arts and hospitality academies.

Jackson, flanked by Anacostia Principal William Haith, Mayor Muriel Bowser, DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee, Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) Director Tommy Wells, and members of the school redesign team, outlined the newest elements of what students have been able to experience this academic year, including pathways for information technology and computer engineering.

A $3 million investment from the DC Public Education Fund also secured what had been described as healing centered practices for the benefit of the school community.

“We will use real-world case studies where students respond to authentic challenges from companies. We will also establish an IT computer pathways program with Cisco Systems,” Jackson continued. “We will invest in a healing center to support social-emotional development. We’re so excited about this opportunity and redesign process.”

Last school year, NAF, a network of education, business, and community leaders, recognized Ballou’s Academy of Hospitality and Tourism as one of 90 top-notch U.S.-based high school career academies. Through this academy, students have interned at the World Bank and participated in Cornell University’s summer hospitality program after taking foundational coursework in their freshman year.

Ballou and Anacostia count among the nearly dozen D.C. public schools engulfed in the mayor’s connected schools model, through which schools partner with community institutions to integrate health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement into the academic environment.

Students at Anacostia also participate in the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement’s Leadership Academy, a school-based program that provides mentorship and wraparound services in the promotion of nonviolence. Through the school redesign, Anacostia will partner with DOEE in fostering its new Civil and Environmental Engineering Pathway.

Friday morning’s presentation took place a day before EdFest, the District’s annual school fair at the DC Armory, where Jackson and others had been scheduled to speak about the school redesign. Students and leaders at Ballou recently promoted their beloved school during an open house for families attending Ballou’s feeder schools.

In October, student leaders representing Ballou and Anacostia at a budget hearing at the DCPS Central Office in Northeast demanded that school officials shed better light on the academic programs they’ve taken advantage of by staying in their neighborhood school. That meeting took place not long after DCPS Central Office announced citywide public school enrollment of more than 50,000 students, what’s considered an all-time record.

For Marcell Robinson, a junior at Ballou who collected feedback from his peers and other community members about school redesign, such changes pose the benefit of proving to others what he and his peers have come to appreciate about their high school. Marcell counted among those who advocated for more career pathway programs.

“I wanted to see the diversity and enrollment [in our school] go up.” said Marcell, who’s studying automotive technology. “All the students at Ballou know each other, and we want other students to see the greatness of Ballou.

“We have consistently talked to students from Hart and Johnson [middle schools], and the ninth and 10th graders to see what people want,” he continued. “You get some satisfaction knowing you were one of the people who started this. When I send my children to Ballou, I would have comfort knowing the school has changed a lot since I’ve gone there.”

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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