Say Hello to the New Ballou

(From left to right) DGS Director Brian Hanlon, DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, Mayor Vincent Gray, DPR Interim Director Dr. Sharia Shanklin and a Ballou STAY student during the Ballou High School Ribbon Cutting Ceremony. Photo: Charnice A. Milton.

The crowd cheered as the Majestic Marching Knights of Frank W. Ballou High School paraded toward the front of the auditorium. As the band played Lauryn Hill's “Doo-Wop (That Thing),” the cheerleaders roused the audience, made up of residents, alumni, and current students. However, this was not a sports event; the Knights were sharing the stage with Mayor Vincent Gray, Ballou Principal Dr. Yetunde Reeves, Ballou STAY Principal Cara Fuller, DC Department of  General Services (DGS) Director Brian Hanlon, DC Public School Chancellor Kaya Henderson, and other distinguished guests for the December 17 ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Ballou High School building.  

“We Need a New Ballou”

Ballou’s Director of Resource Development, Ruth Jones, noting that Ballou was the first school built in DC after the Brown v. the Board of Education decision, said, “We knew that it was built with inferior materials and it was built after the decision to desegregate Anacostia,” she addressed the audience, “and I would have to believe that some people knew that the demographics in this community would change.” When Jones first came to the school in 2009, she toured the building with then-principal Rahman Branch. Throughout that tour, he talked about the aging building, a lack of books in the library, and the need for more technology. “I remember after so many of his statements, he kept on saying, 'We need a new Ballou,'” she stated.

“We met with community leaders, students, families, parents, and alumni, to really find out what they wanted to see for the 'new Ballou,'” Jones explained after the ceremony. “They talked about having high-quality instructional programs that would prepare students for college and careers, but they also wanted a better facility.” 

Believing in the Vision

“I think the biggest challenge initially was helping people understand that the vision for a 'new Ballou' was possible,” said Jones. “There were a lot of people who I think in some ways were just afraid to dream. Once they saw movement in terms of city council commitment and different things happening at the 'old Ballou,' then they started to buy into the vision for the 'new Ballou.'”

Ballou Parent-Teacher-Student Association (PTSA) President Sharona Robinson also reflected on the opposition the modernization project initially received. “When we started this process two years ago, there were many people who said this building cost too much money, or that we didn't deserve it,” she said. “Well, I'm here to say today, that not only did we deserve it, but it is long overdue.” 

The New Ballou

The “new Ballou” is a 365,000 square-foot campus built to accommodate 1,400 students, as well as 900 STAY students, in 87 classrooms (the STAY programs is for students 16+ who  require an alternative setting from that of a traditional high school). Emulating a collegiate atmosphere, Ballou has a two-story cafeteria/commons area that will function as a community meeting place. The school features 13 science and bio-technology laboratories, a greenhouse, a culinary arts kitchen, an auto-mechanic training shop, a three-tiered theater, as well as specialized spaces for student programs, including a television studio and barbershop and cosmetology areas. Finally, Ballou has “green” design features, including bio-retention gardens, sustainable materials, and solar panels, giving it a LEED Gold certification.

Starting January 5, students will attend the “new Ballou” while the old building is demolished to begin Phase II of the project: a football stadium and auxiliary field; this phase should be completed by August. 

How it Affects Students

“Doesn't this look like a college?” Mayor Gray asked the crowd. “It does to me,” he continued. “And we're going to act like this is a college, because more and more, we're going to produce Ballou students who will see high school as the beginning of the next stage of their lives.” Dr. Reeves agreed, saying that the project shows students that there is value in their education. “It's really about what excites the students,” she said. “I want to make sure they're connected and they believe that the programs meet their interests.” Dr. Reeves refers to the upcoming hospitality academy as an example; under this program, students would participate in paid internships, site visits, and mentorships with hospitality leaders.

Fuller hopes that the 'new Ballou' would help encourage her STAY students. “Our students are students who may be coming back to school discouraged, because they did not succeed the first time around,” she explained. “So, a building like this reminds them that they are important and they can do it.” She also believes that the school will help students connect with their community. “At Ballou STAY, we are looking forward to partnering with the Ballou community and the larger Ward 8 community, which was really the vision of the late Marion Barry,” she told the audience. “We are excited to be able to have all of our programs under one roof and really take on the charge that this building embodies: a charge of excellence.”

A Call of Support

“Recent events remind us why we need a new Ballou Senior High School,” stated Ballou alum Curtis Etherly, Jr., who currently serves as Coca-Cola's Director of Public Affairs and Communications. As Chair of the Friends of Ballou, Etherly encouraged the audience to be “Ballou and Ward 8 strong” as “...despite [having] a new building, we still have some old problems...We will continue to need you.”

Henderson agreed, comparing the day's events to a wedding. “...Everybody in your community surrounds you as the couple and commits, not only to watching you 'jump the broom,' but commits to supporting you in your new life together,” she explained. “This is our wedding. This is our opportunity to come together and say, 'We are going to support Ballou together.' It's going to take all of us to ensure that these young people have the kind of world-class education they deserve.” 

Ballou High School is located at 3401 4th Street, SE Washington, DC 20032. For more information, call 202-645-3400 (Ballou HS) or 202-645-3390 (Ballou STAY) or visit balloudc.org or balloustay.com.


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