By Logan Walker and Micha Green,
DCPS Student, AFRO Intern and AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor,

“Back to School” is a season in the United States that signifies transition. In mid-summer store shelves begin to fill with school supplies. Yet by the last few weeks of the educational summer vacation, stores become crowded with parents looking to fulfill school supplies lists and children hoping to find the nicest new tools for the year and shelves become messy piles of scattered learning apparatus. Throughout shopping malls, clothing stores and media marketing, children are encouraged to get the hottest new looks for “Back to School” outfits.

Principal LeVar Jenkins and kindergarten students and John Burroughs Elementary in Northeast, D.C. on the second. (Courtesy Photo)

A laser focus has been on District of Columbia Schools (DCPS)- a system that had a school year filled with controversies such as attendance, enrollment and graduation fraud, low test scores and achievement gaps where statistics show students of color performing at lower levels than their White counterparts nationally. Hoping to leave the drama of the 2017-2018 school-year, the District has been the site of several events to mark “Back to School” such as backpack drives, free beauty and barbering services and even parties to motivate students. As DCPS goes back to school, the AFRO talked DCPS students, teachers and parents about the Back to School Season.

Miles Peterson, Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, Senior

What does “Back to School” mean to you?

Back to School means finishing a chapter in my life- one that contains strife and struggle but also some of my happiest moments to date. It means reaching the finish line of an educational journey I started long ago. And as I cross that line I enter a world of adulthood which holds even more challenges and opportunities for growth.

How can students of color look beyond the stigma about poor performance in the classroom?

They can beat stigma by always keeping them in mind. An issue in the Black community is knowledge of self. Ancient Afrika is often characterized with being filled with kings when that isn’t the case, less than one percent of the population were kings or queens, but majority were geniuses and forward thinkers. So in order for the modern Black student to excel they must remember their past in order to move forward and use it as a jet fuel to fly over all beliefs that they are intellectually inferior.

Destinee Dyke, 17, School Without Walls, Senior. (Courtesy Photo)

Destinee Dyke, 17, School Without Walls

What does “Back to School” mean to you?

Back to School means back to rules, homework, often times drama, and teachers that aren’t passionate. Though I am excited for this school year because it is my last year in high school!

How can students of color combat stigma about poor performance in the classroom and ultimately be successful?

To combat the stigma I say, go outside of your comfort zone, speak up, be that challenging individual, don’t hold back. Take the initiative and start the conversation, especially the uncomfortable ones and always trust your instinct!

Eric Ruffin, Duke Ellington School of the Arts instructor. (Courtesy Photo)

Eric Ruffin, Theatre Teacher, Duke Ellington School of the Arts

What does “Back to School” mean to you?

It’s like a double-edged sword, the grind of a routine again, which I have been resistant to. I’ve been, ‘I’ll get up now, I’ll go get some breakfast now’. As a teacher you have your summer off so you can create a schedule that is more flexible. The grind of routine is not as attractive but at the same time it’s when I have a schedule and regiment that I actually do, forcing myself to get things done. I look forward to how students have developed and grown. It’s exciting to see students come back and something has clicked and they’ve matured in a way. You’re no longer that awkward freshman, you got some moxie, I like that. Last year I learned a lot from my classes. I’m looking forward to seeing that expectation, because I don’t know if it was an expectation to be getting as much as I’m giving to them. I’m looking to how I can forward that conversation of reciprocity in the classroom.

How can students of color look beyond the stigma about poor performance in the classroom?

Look in front of them. Here at Ellington, you can look around and see teachers of color in lots of classrooms. You look around you, and you see intellectual wealth, artistic wealth, cultural wealth, financial wealth. Take that in and consider your potential. That’s one of the benchmarks. You are surrounded by examples of what you could potentially be. There is no stigma. What stigma? This is greatness, I’m surrounded by it. In the D.C. metropolitan area, and being a teacher at Howard as well, I encounter so many students that say ‘This is my first time being around Black students, this is my first time my teachers were Black. This is the first time that I’ve in an environment where I’m affirmed by every aspect of this institution’. Your sense of beauty is affirmed by walking across this campus and seeing the shades of beauty. So look in front of you, it’s here.