For more than a dozen high school graduates, the transition to a four-year college should prove easier after completing an academic program in which they’ve earned both their high school diploma and an associate degree, the latter free of charge.

In the two years since Bard High School Early College DC opened its doors in Southeast, 15 youth, many residents of Wards 7 and 8, have explored their academic and career interests, completed 60 hours of college-level coursework and navigated the college application process, all while weathering the storm of a pandemic.

And as Bard graduate Darren Wright explained to The Informer, he and his classmates have received unprecedented insights on the college environment as they make the next step in pursuit of their chosen careers.

“Bard has prepared me [for college] by showing me how to write longer and capture an audience with my writing,” said Wright, 18, who will attend the State University of New York at Plattsburgh in the fall.

With his father’s support, Wright transferred to Bard from the Parkside campus of Cesar Chavez Public Charter School during his junior year. He and 19 other upperclassmen counted among the first students who matriculated through what Bard designates as Year 1 and Year 2 when students take college seminars taught by on-campus college educators.

While Wright, an aspiring sports journalist, couldn’t pinpoint a particular class that piqued his interest, he said the rigor of the coursework often stretched his ability to read long passages, write extensively and practice time management. He expressed plans to use the skills acquired at Bard in his pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in communications.

“Bard showed me how to think more and not just broadly [but] specifically about what I want to say [when] analyzing different things,” Wright said.

“I got to do that during my seminar classes and in some of my electives. I didn’t think I was a good writer because I didn’t get good grades for writing essays but my teachers showed me I could,” he said.

A commencement ceremony for Wright and his peers took place at Audi Field in Southwest on the evening of June 24. Ward 7 State Board of Education Representative Eboni Rose-Thompson opened the ceremony. D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee and Bard College President Dr. Leon Botstein, respectively, conferred high school diplomas and an associate degree to each graduate. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) served as commencement speaker.

Weeks earlier, as the 2020-2021 school year wrapped up, seniors at Bard had the opportunity to not only celebrate but to make up for face-to-face time lost during the pandemic.

This fall, Bard along with other District public and charter schools, will conduct in-person learning at a time when those who enrolled in Bard’s inception as ninth graders will be immersed in the school’s first-ever pipeline college class. The course has been developed to ease their transition to Year 1 of the associate’s program.

As had been the case before the pandemic, high school and college courses will simultaneously be offered at Bard, along with several extracurricular activities.

The high school, currently located in the Benning Ridge community, has been slated to move to Congress Heights within the next few years.

Bard High School Early College DC serves as a tuition-free satellite campus of Bard College, based in Annandale, New York. The college was founded on the belief that young people can do college-level work at a younger age. Its launch in 2019 served as a partnership between DCPS and Bard College. Though admissions officers check transcripts to predict 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.

For Bard High School Early College DC Principal Vanessa Anderson, such conditions ensure that all students can matriculate at a high school that provides college education without cost.

It’s particularly meaningful for youth who live east of the Anacostia River whose experiences Anderson compared to her upbringing in the Brownsville community of Brooklyn, New York.

“It’s huge that there’s a selective high school and early college option east of the Anacostia River,” Anderson said. “This does so much to keep you connected to your neighborhood. When you’re connected, you begin to see all of the beauty that’s there despite how it may be characterized. You feel empowered to make your community the way you want it to be.”

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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