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In commemoration of Eastern High School’s centennial, students, parents, faculty and alumni celebrated the launch of an exhibit that chronicles 100 years of the school’s rich history. 

The permanent exhibit, located in the lobby of Eastern High School, represents a collaboration between Eastern High School students and faculty and The Story of Our Schools, a local nonprofit dedicated to showing how local schools have accentuated D.C.’s history.   

This school year, a group of students, under the direction of librarian Ellen Dodsworth, used information collected from local archives and alumni oral history to create mini-documentaries that not only highlight aspects of Eastern’s history but reflect their personal interests. 

These mini-docs have been included in a digital archive that will be expanded for years to come.  

Demar Franklin, a junior at Eastern, counted among those who produced their mini-docs with the help of Rodney “Red” Grant, founder of local nonprofit “Don’t Shoot Guns, Shoot Cameras.” For his project, Demar traced how technology enhanced education at Eastern throughout its 100-year history.   

Elements of Demar’s project focused on the printing press, projector and early test-taking machines. Demar used yearbook photos to explain how the printing press helped Eastern students create and circulate their school newspaper. For his mini-doc, Demar, an e-sports enthusiast, interviewed Lee James, the head of the e-sports program and Paul Howard, his coach, to gather their insight about the modern application of technology. 

Demar described his project as an opportunity to show his appreciation for what Eastern provided, especially as a student who started high school quarantined at home at the height of the pandemic. “There’s a sense of community within Eastern then and now,” Demar said. 

“People find newfound friends in the band [and other activities],” he continued. It’s important to build community after being in quarantine without the social connection. It’s good that we have these clubs and communities so that people can grow past what happened…and discover themselves in these social groups.” 

Documenting a Century of School History 

Eastern High School was founded in the late 19th century as Capitol Hill High School on the campus of what’s now known as Peabody Elementary School. In 1923, after getting renamed and moving to its current location on 17th Street and East Capitol Street in Northeast, Eastern’s student population swelled beyond 1,000.  

Over the next few decades, integration policy compelled a demographic shift, with Eastern’s student population changing from mostly white to mostly Black during the second half of the 20th century. Years later, Black students stood up against low academic achievement and subpar lunch. During the Civil Rights Movement, a group of students known as the Modern Strivers advocated for a curriculum centered on Black history and culture. 

Eastern’s centennial exhibit captures that spirit of activism with a replica of a Greensboro Four lunch counter, where Franklin McCain, an Eastern alumnus, staged sit-ins during the early 1960s while a student at North Carolina A&T University. That exhibit counts among a bevy of items that document Eastern’s accomplishments in the realms of academics, sports and culture.  

Alumni and others who are viewing the exhibit can scan a QR code to upload photos documenting their Eastern experience. 

In preparing the exhibit, The Story of Our Schools conducted high-level research on Eastern’s history that was condensed into a three-day presentation given by Kimberly Springle, executive director of the Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives, the official museum and repository for D.C. Public Schools. From that point, students who contributed to the exhibit spent one day a week working on their projects with Dodsworth during their lunch break. 

Following the completion of the students’ mini-docs, the exhibit entered a conceptualization stage where a review committee composed of community members ensured that content and language was appropriate for the school community. 

Jen Harris, founder and executive director of The Story of Our Schools, said that the project, which was two years in the making, sparked much enthusiasm from administrators at Eastern and members of the community. “We all knew that Eastern had this rich history and that our program would work really well here,” Harris said. 

“When their centennial anniversary rolled around, Capitol Hill Community Foundation took interest [as] a big funder of the project, and Sah Brown who was the principal before Principal [Steve] Miller also took an interest,” she added. “So those three and us started getting the ball rolling. Mr. Miller was really excited about the project and wanted to push it forward.” 

Current Eastern Students and Staff Influenced by School’s History Culture

During the 2021-2022 school year, Eastern High School had 766 students, the majority of whom were Black. Among all of the District public school feeder patterns, the one leading to Eastern most closely represents the District’s racial demographics, according to a report the D.C. Policy Center released earlier this year. 

In 2015, Eastern issued its first International Baccalaureate World Diploma, which translates to college credit for any high school student who receives it. Other academic and enrichment offerings include an Academy of Health Sciences, soccer, football, basketball, volleyball, marching band, advanced visual arts, debate club and D.C. Youth Orchestra. 

For Steve Miller, a principal in his first year at Eastern, sitting at the helm of the Capitol Hill-based high school requires learning about and deeply appreciating its history. That’s why, during the official launch of the centennial exhibit on March 31, he spent time hearing from alumni and further solidifying relationships with people who’ve played various roles within the Eastern community. .  

“The exhibit showcases the legacy, rich history and culture at Eastern High School,” Miller said. “That’s one of the things I had an inkling about, but learned about starting here as principal. There’s so much pride and rich history with our alumni. The exhibit really captures that in a way that will ground our school culture this year and all the years forward.”

Sam P.K. Collins photo

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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