D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee (third from left), D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (center), D.C. Department of General Services Director Keith A. Anderson (third from right) and D.C. Council member Trayon White (far right) cut the ribbon in celebration of Phase I of the newly modernized Bard High School Early College DC on Jan. 5. (Ja’Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)
D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee (third from left), D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (center), D.C. Department of General Services Director Keith A. Anderson (third from right) and D.C. Council member Trayon White (far right) cut the ribbon in celebration of Phase I of the newly modernized Bard High School Early College DC on Jan. 5. (Ja’Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)

Nearly four years after its inception, Bard High School Early College DC has found a new, permanent home in Congress Heights.

Upon their return from winter break earlier this week, nearly 400 students gingerly entered their newly renovated school building. Days later, on Thursday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and several other District officials commemorated this milestone with a ribbon-cutting. 

Once construction of the building, formerly known as the Malcolm X Opportunity Center on Alabama Avenue in Southeast, reaches full completion later this year, it will have nearly three dozen classrooms, rooftop solar panels, a theater and gymnasium, a soccer field, track field and basketball court along with several energy-saving amenities. 

For many students, including Josiah Best, the new building not only represents the fulfillment of a vision, but the end of a tumultuous journey. 

Months after Bard High School Early College DC opened in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic relegated Josiah and his peers to their homes during a lengthy, and mentally taxing quarantine period. Once students returned to in-person learning, they accumulated high school and college credits in the former Davis Elementary School, a small, aging facility. Making matters worse were ongoing conflicts between students and people living in the surrounding community. 

Through it all, dozens of young people eventually earned their high school diploma and, in most cases, an associate’s degree free of charge. Within a matter of months, Josiah, a senior at Bard High School Early College DC, will receive similar honors, and hopefully an acceptance letter from Florida A&M University. 

He too basked in the pandemonium over his new high school, calling it a dream come true for him and others who will attend Bard in the years to come. 

“Being part of a new school is always challenging. There are always uncertainties,” said Josiah, who also serves as Student Government Association president and chief editor of his school’s yearbook committee. “We started in a temporary facility so the space didn’t foster the sense of importance that the institution provided. We had to deal with that as well as the neighborhood. The biggest takeaway [for us has been] to trust the process.” 

Bard High School Early College DC serves as a tuition-free satellite campus of Bard College, based in Annandale, New York. The college, launched in a partnership between Bard College and DCPS, was founded on the belief that young people can do college-level work at a younger age. 

Students matriculating to Bard High School Early College DC take conventional courses in their first two years and tackle college-level coursework during their junior and senior year, also known as Year 1 and Year 2. Though admissions officers check transcripts to facilitate a student’s graduation without interruption, those who want to attend the District’s first wall-to-wall early college program don’t need to take entrance exams.

On Thursday, officials who attended the ribbon cutting included District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee, State Superintendent Christina Grant, Ward 8 Council member Trayon White (D), At-large Council member Anita Bonds (D), Department of General Services Director Keith Anderson, and D.C. State Board members Carlene Reid (Ward 8), Eboni-Rose Thompson (Ward 7) and Jacque Patterson (At-large). 

Dr. Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, also took part in the festivities. In his remarks, he said that the new school building will provide even more inspiration to students embarking on their postsecondary journey at an early age. 

At times, he elicited applause when he spoke about the need to spark teenagers’ love of learning and ensure they have opportunities to excel. ” We don’t treat adolescence with dignity,” Botstein said. 

“In a country where race is still a major issue with poverty and a lack of opportunity, the key in the 21st century is knowledge. With a new school you’re paving a new road and we want to create this building with a sense of ambition.” 

Amid all the celebration, concerns about neighborhood violence persist.  

On Jan. 3, 17-year-old Martez Toney was shot and killed at Congress Heights Metro Station, just one block from Bard High School Early College DC. In his remarks, Council member White acknowledged the Cure the Streets violence interrupters who’ve been on scene establishing relationships with students and administrators. 

Dr. Vanessa Anderson, founding principal of Bard High School Early College DC, said her administration will take similar steps to get Congress Heights residents better acclimated with their new neighbors.

“I want to connect with the community,” Anderson said. “The first two days in the building have been [like] Christmas. For the most part, there’s a lot of excitement around the building among the students.”

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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