Principal Anita Berger, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and bevy of public officials and community members cut the ribbon for the new Banneker Academic High School on Aug. 28. (Sam P.K. Collins/The Washington Informer)
Principal Anita Berger, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and bevy of public officials and community members cut the ribbon for the new Banneker Academic High School on Aug. 28. (Sam P.K. Collins/The Washington Informer)

In the four decades of its existence, Banneker Academic High School has established a reputation as one of the best, and most rigorous, public schools in the District and United States.

This happened even as scholars hailing from all corners of the city studied in spaces befitting of middle schoolers, juggled schoolwork with participation in other schools’ varsity sports programs, and watched the school’s infrastructure slowly crumble.

However, Banneker students who started in-person learning this week didn’t return to 800 Euclid St., NW. They instead walked through the doors of a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility that many say truly reflects the quality of a Banneker education.

“This is a chance to witness the fruits of our labor. We have worked so many years to reach this milestone,” Banneker Principal Anita Berger said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Banneker Academic High School, located near the intersection of Ninth Street and Rhode Island Avenue in Northwest.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony on Aug. 28 attracted hundreds of students, teachers, alumni, community members and elected officials who gathered on the front steps of the new school.

After much fanfare and moments of reflection, Berger joined D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee, Ward 6 Council member Charles Allen (D) and other officials and children in cutting a red ribbon and welcoming the community into the futuristic space.

The new 175,000 square-foot, net-zero energy-ready building not only bears the name of Benjamin Banneker, but carries a portrait of him etched into a metal plate erected across the front of the building. The 18th-century farmer, a self-taught surveyor and mathematician, is credited with laying out what became the city of Washington.

In addition to classrooms, the new Banneker has a 600-seat auditorium, naturally lit cafeteria, multipurpose room, basketball and tennis court and soccer field along with outdoor learning and common areas spread throughout the building.

The new Banneker High also is also equipped with solar panels and mechanisms helping it retain rainwater.

With the relocation and expansion to the site of what used to be Shaw Junior High School, enrollment at Banneker is expected to double, reaching nearly 900 students.

“Students, your advocacy made this happen,” Berger continued. “I’m happy to be part of this ribbon cutting [because] it’s been a long time coming. I cannot wait to see our students thrive in such an amazing place.”

Solid Graduation, College Participation Rate

Since its 1981 inception, Banneker, one of the first District public schools with a specialized curriculum geared toward college matriculation and completion, has maintained its graduation and college matriculation rate of 100 percent. It became an International Baccalaureate World School in 2001 and gained recognition as a National Blue Ribbon School in 2017.

It stands as the last District public school to either undergo modernization or construction of a new building. This milestone culminated years of discussions with school officials and community members, along with and a series of D.C. Council hearings that revealed deep-seated tensions between Banneker affiliates and Shaw residents vying for a new middle school.

Throughout much of 2019, students who converged on the Wilson Building in support of Banneker’s relocation hailed the school’s record of achievement. School officials also enlisted alumni support from Aaron Jenkins and other grads who testified before the D.C. Council.

On Saturday, Jenkins relished the moment with his fellow alumni. He expressed the hope that current students, just as they have in years past, can build relationships with the Shaw community through service.

“I’m looking forward to the community embracing Banneker and its young people,” said Jenkins, a 1999 graduate who went on to study political science, Africana studies and international relations at Williams College in Massachusetts.

“Schools are an important part of the community,” continued Jenkins, CEO and partner of North Star Strategies. “Public schools especially have helped anchor communities, especially with Banneker’s volunteerism. That means that the students will be part of the Shaw community. This can be impactful.”

Lisa Yearwood, another Banneker alumna, also spent much of Saturday touring the new Banneker as thoughts of her academic journey flooded her mind.

Yearwood, a 1987 graduate and second-generation Banneker alumna, credited the school with easing her journey through both undergraduate studies at Syracuse University and post-graduate work at George Washington University.

Though nostalgic about Banneker’s old location of 800 Euclid St. NW, she looked with pleasure at the new dwellings as the well-deserved treat for the Banneker community.

“Change was needed. If other schools got [remodeled], then why not?,” said Yearwood, a high school teacher who lives in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

“I hope that students fully utilize the resources available to them. My peers and I look back on those years and we are happy that we had that rigor. Banneker prepared us.”

District School Modernization Projects

Banneker’s ribbon-cutting followed similar events for West/John Lewis Elementary School and Eaton Elementary School, also in Northwest.

In total, 26 school buildings have been modernized or constructed during the Bowser era. What’s more, more than $1.3 billion is earmarked over the next six years for continuous modernization of District public schools.

On Saturday, Jabari Paul, a senior at Banneker Academic High School who introduced Bowser, heralded these efforts as he expressed excitement about completing his last year in a new building.

“I’m glad we have this opportunity like all other students across the city,” said Jabari. “I can’t wait to have science now that we’re back from distance learning. When you work hard, your dreams come true.”

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Sam P.K. Collins

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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