Congress Heights resident Shekita McBroom did not know what to expect when Bard High School Early College DC (BHSEC) moved in a block away at 1351 Alabama Ave. SE. In early January, the school decamped from its location in Ward 7 to a state-of-the-art facility at the former Malcolm X Opportunity Center.
Construction of the new facility is not yet complete. Nevertheless, 400 students, faculty and staff moved in after the winter break. Upon completion, BHSEC will boast a theater, outdoor learning center, music conservatory, soccer field, solar roof panels and dozens of modern classrooms with an elevator to provide easier access to the four floors.
“I can say that the school runs a tight ship,” said McBroom. “They do not allow the students to just hang around or linger. Sometimes you can have all the L’s ‒ lingering, littering and loitering, which is never good.” The school, however, is much more than a considerate neighbor.
Educating the Bard Way
Founded on the belief “that young people are ready and eager to begin college at age 16,” the school’s website states, Bard DC enables students to earn a high school diploma and an associate degree in four years. The program is associated with Bard College, a storied 160-year-old liberal arts college located in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. The school has only 1,900 undergraduates, but its graduates number comedian Chevy Chase, filmmaker Jonah Hill and journalist Ronan Farrow.
Bard High School Early College DC (https://bhsec.bard.edu/) provides a “rigorous course of study that emphasizes critical thinking through writing, discussion and inquiry,” the web page states. The curriculum consists of a two-year college preparatory sequence in grades nine and 10, which transitions into a two-year college course of study in grades 11 and 12 (known as Year 1 and Year 2 at BHSEC). Core and elective offerings include the natural sciences, social sciences, mathematics, humanities, foreign languages and the arts.
DC’s BHSEC is one of a nationwide network of schools associated with Bard College that serves 3,000 students at seven associated campuses in Baltimore, Cleveland, New Orleans, New York City and Newark. Students take traditional courses in their freshman and sophomore years. The program departs from the norm thereafter. As juniors and seniors, they move on to college-level coursework.
“As a teacher, what makes Bard special is the unique combination of faculty expertise and the time we have with our students,” said Virginia Butler, who teaches the advanced literary theory college elective to Year 1 students and 10th grade world literature. “At Bard, students have the freedom to pursue their intellectual curiosities while building relationships and honing their knowledge over the course of years with faculty.”
BHSEC is a public school, not a charter school, open to all District residents. There are no entrance exams or tuition charges. More than 75% of the graduates attend college.
Senior Tamaya Flores, 18, is one of the school’s first students. “When they opened, it was a little shaky,” she remarked, but “progress has started. The population has gotten bigger since I first came here.”
The Falcons Triumph
BHSEC’s varsity male basketball team, the Falcons, has taken the city by storm after winning two District titles in consecutive months. In February, the fifth-ranked Falcons beat the third-ranked McKinley Tech Trainers to win the DC Interscholastic Athletic Association championship in a major upset. Senior shooting guard DeAngelo Fogle, who led the Falcons with 18 points, was recognized as the game’s most valuable player.
In March, the Falcons were back at it again. Junior power forward Nathaniel Poindexter Jr. scored 18 points, while a late go-ahead basket by senior forward Damari Thompson clinched the 67-64 victory over SEED DC in the District of Columbia State Athletic Association’s championship, played at George Washington University.
Nathaniel Poindexter Sr. ‒ local basketball star who attended Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and later played overseas in Iceland ‒ is extremely pleased with BHSEC and proud of his son. “I was intrigued with the opportunity for Nate to get college courses in high school. That is one of the reasons why we transferred him from IDEA (Public Charter School) to Bard this year. He’ll be back next year.”
The Falcons are led by Malcolm Battle, the athletic director and head basketball coach, along with his coaching staff: Greg Harris, William Liggins, Jay Nichols, Anthony Ridley and Johnny Tutt. School personnel Janay Brooks and Amanda Washington were also instrumental in the team’s success. Battle and his staff often ferried players personally to and from games and practices.
“I’m super proud of these young men,” he commented. “I had kids who had every reason to transfer and go somewhere else. We didn’t have a home gym. We didn’t know until the last minute where we were going to practice some days. That speaks to their character,” he said.
Despite its athletic success and 90% student retention rate, BHSEC still faces challenges. Neither the current principal nor the head of the school are returning next academic year. Teacher retention has been an issue.
Crime is also a problem. “I am truly happy that Bard is here,” said McBroom, “but the crime rate around here … I fear for the students. We have had kids attacked inside the Metro even before Bard came.”
In the meantime, Flores plans to graduate in June along with 125 other seniors. She has been accepted at Virginia State University, a historically black college located in Ettrick, Virginia. There she plans to major in business management, hoping to return to the District to open a cosmetology business.
Outgoing BHSEC Principal Vanessa Anderson is optimistic about overcoming future challenges. “It has not been an easy four years,” she said. “The pandemic really rocked our fledgling community, but we are the definition of resilient.” She continued, “I expect to be an emotional hot mess watching our founding class walk across the stage, because in spite of all that they’ve been through they really did create something special.”