Amid preparations for the recent March for Washington which targeted the need for federal oversight of voting rights, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and others honored the life and legacy of Rep. John Lewis during a ribbon-cutting for a newly constructed public school.
The Northwest school, currently known as West Education Campus, will soon become John Lewis Elementary School, pending D.C. Council approval.
Bowser made the announcement on the morning of August 26 before an audience of teachers, staff members, elected officials and community members who converged on West Education Campus in celebration of their new neighborhood institution.
“I’m sure the congressman will continue to inspire Washingtonians including the students who call West home,” Bowser said as D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee, D.C. Councilmember Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) and West Education Campus Principal Nikeysha Jackson stood nearby.
West’s construction, totaling $77.5 million, began in early 2020 with the demolition of the old building. The new facility, completed this summer, spans 90,000 feet and has nearly three dozen classrooms across two floors.
With the school now open as classes for the fall have begun, students, teachers and staff will have access to amenities including an outdoor amphitheater, ball field and playground.
The new West, the first District school to receive Net Zero Energy Ready and WELL certifications, has spaces for interactive early childhood play in addition to large monumental steps placed in the middle of the school and large windows that bring natural light into the wide hallways.
“Families wanted to go to their neighborhood schools and we agreed to embark on the construction of a new building and to continue our investment in the best teacher workforce in America,” Bowser said. “We feel very proud of the investments we made.”
West Education Campus counts among five District public schools that have recently been constructed or modernized.
A ribbon-cutting for the newly-modernized Eaton Elementary School, also in Northwest, took place a few hours later. On Saturday, August 28, Banneker Academic High School community members will celebrate the opening of a newly-constructed building on 9th Street in Northwest.
In total, 26 school buildings have been modernized or constructed since Bowser entered office. She has committed more than $1.3 billion over the next six years for continuous modernization of District public schools.
A 16th Street Heights resident who attended the West Education Campus ribbon-cutting commended the project and Bowser’s enthusiasm for memorializing the late Lewis.
“Schools are always valuable,” said the resident of 40 years who requested anonymity. “Education is the most important thing. Teachers seem excited and that makes me happy. I’m definitely happy they named [the school] after John Lewis. That’s dear to me as someone from that era.”
Rep. John Lewis, who died on July 17, 2020, at the age of 80, lived a life dedicated to public service. As a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he organized his young colleagues around nonviolent protest and even served as the 1963 March on Washington’s youngest speaker.
As a federal legislator representing Atlanta, Lewis championed firearm safety and the launch of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. During social justice protests that broke out during the pandemic, he visited Black Lives Matter Plaza and spoke with Mayor Bowser.
A Voting Rights Act restoration bill bearing Lewis’ name recently passed the House and will soon make its way to the Senate.
On Thursday, Michael Collins, Lewis’s onetime chief of staff, relished the occasion and reflected on the commitment of his former boss to education.
“Congressman Lewis loved school and teachers,” Collins said. “He talked about what his teacher told him. He took those lessons and read early in his life and it took him to Washington. He would be up to the moon about this.”