On Dec. 10, more than 200 District public and charter schools set up tables with literature, trinkets, candies, and posters at EdFest, held in the D.C. Armory. EdFest, a one-day event, is the collaboration of the Office of the D.C. Mayor, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, public television station WETA, and the school system’s lottery, My School D.C.

edfest

Students and parents browsed through schools during the 2016 Edfest in preparation for the next school year. (Courtesy Photo)

EdFest was started during the Vincent Gray mayoral administration in 2014 as a process to inform parents and students about school options before the school lottery starts in February for the 2017-2018 school year.

Robert and Beth Sewell live in the Brightwood section of Ward 4 in Northwest. They attended EdFest to see what options are available for their three-year-old child. “This is a great opportunity to see the schools and what they have to offer,” Beth told the AFRO. “We are looking for a good place for our little one here and we want to start our child off with a good education.”

She did have one complaint. “One of the things I don’t like about the D.C. public schools is that you can’t automatically enroll in your neighborhood schools,” she said. In Sewell’s case, she has a valid complaint with Shepherd Elementary, Deal, and Wilson as institutions that her child should be able to easily enroll in but for the lottery system.

Jacque Patterson, co-founder of Rocketship Rise Academy Public Charter School in Ward 8 said he understands Sewell’s frustration. He told the AFRO that Rocketship is designed to meet the needs of Ward 8 parents who have concerns similar to Sewell’s.

“We want our kids to get a quality education,” Patterson said. “Every person in the District of Columbia should have a quality school nearby and that is what we are offering at Rocketship.”

Rocketship is in its first year of existence and offers pre-Kindergarten through third grade. While Rocketship has a nice facility, it is located near Woodland Terrace, a public housing community that has had problems with crime.

Patterson said that his school is committed to seeing its students perform well academically despite challenges dealing with poverty and public safety. “The elementary schools in this area such as Moten, Garfield and Stanton have academic achievements rates on standardized tests of 25 percent or below,” he said. “Those levels are unacceptable at Rocketship and our charter mandates that 60 percent of our students test on grade level.”

Patterson isn’t the only Ward 8 educational leader calling for academic excellence. Anacostia High School, located in a working-class neighborhood dealing with a reputation for high crime, is working to let the rest of the District know that it is on the move.

“Anacostia High School is the best kept secret in Southeast,” Tomeka McKenzie, assistant principal, told the AFRO. “We prepare our students to be college ready. People shouldn’t confuse the community with the school.”

McKenzie is quick to point out that Anacostia offers courses of study in biomedical science, computer science and a recently added feature, the public safety academy. She presented an information sheet that highlights Anacostia’s 1:1 student to laptop ratio, recent graduates matriculating to universities such as Hampton, Penn State, Georgetown, Tennessee State, and Marshall, its AP and Honors course offerings, and that 64 percent of enrolled students graduate on time.

Dr. Benjamin Williams is the principal of the new public all-boys school, Ron Brown College Preparatory School in Deanwood. “We are here to support our young people and we are educating people about our school,” he told the AFRO.