Banneker Students, Alums Reflect on Hard-Fought Battle

Students at Banneker Academic High School recently returned to 800 Euclid Street in Northwest with the certainty that, within three years, 800 high achievers will enjoy the trappings of newly-erected, fully-furnished building on the grounds of the former Shaw Junior High School.

A D.C. Council vote earlier this year cemented that victory, resolving a lengthy battle between the Banneker community and Shaw-area parents endeavoring to open a DCPS middle school at 925 Rhode Island Avenue NW.

Months later, a groundbreaking ceremony at that location would prove both celebratory and reflective for those on the frontlines of that fight.

“I’m looking forward to going back and seeing students flourishing in that [new] type of environment,” said RuQuan Brown, president of Banneker’s student government association and a social entrepreneur committed to ending gun violence through his business, Love1.

On Saturday, RuQuan, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and Chancellor Lewis Ferebee counted among those who dug shovels into the ground to mark the beginning of construction.

In May, RuQuan and dozens of students accompanied by two faculty members stormed the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest. For three workdays, they lobbied D.C. council members for their support of legislation that would move Banneker allowing for an enrollment expansion of 300 slots.

Those efforts rebuffed an attempt by six council members to bring forth a plan for the modernization of 800 Euclid Street NW. That alternative had been heralded as the ideal compromise between the Banneker community and disaffected Shaw parents. In short order, Bowser announced the Banneker relocation in November as opponents reiterated assurances by her predecessors that the shuttered Shaw Junior High School would reopen.

However, that explanation didn’t suffice for students who watched other DCPS high schools receive upgrades.

“We are some of the hardest working students in the city. We have a 100 percent graduation rate and do more community service hours than others,” RuQuan said. “Hard work should pay off and we hadn’t gotten that. I’ve been a part of so many cool programs that don’t happen anywhere else.”

Banneker, an alternative education institution since 1981, provides more than 400 students a highly-structured, rigorous academic experience geared toward college readiness. Since 2001, it has been an International Baccalaureate World School, gaining recognition as a National Blue Ribbon School in 2017.

Around that time, a trio of female Banneker students became finalists in NASA’s high school competition with their design of a filtration system which removes lead from water fountains. The Bowser administration later awarded the team $4,000.

Since the 7-6 D.C. Council vote that secured Banneker’s relocation, several of the young organizers have graduated and started college. One of those alumni, Margareth Mbea, said she relishes the victory but laments going toe-to-toe with a neighborhood of transplants and white-collar professionals.

“This whole issue overlapped with gentrification happening in the city. The white newcomers told us they wanted a middle school as if they didn’t have options,” said Mbea, a student at Xavier University in New Orleans.

“I could only imagine what my experience would’ve been in a new building. We had to go to a school that looked like a prison. We make the city look good, so it feels good to know that we have finally gotten something.”

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