How DC public schools are helping rising 6th and 9th graders get acclimated to new schools

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee speaks with students at Bard Early College High School on Aug. 10, 2023. (WTOP/Scott Gelman)
D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee listens to a class at Bard Early College High School on Aug. 10, 2023 during the Summer Bridge program. (WTOP/Scott Gelman)

In a second-floor classroom at Bard Early College High School in Southeast D.C. on Thursday afternoon, students in the “Bard 101” course were tasked with defining the word ‘culture.’

Just a few doors down the hall, students created their own comics, with original dialogue and character drawings. When called on to present, one student said he got his inspiration from Dragon Ball Z.

School in D.C. doesn’t start until later this month, but rising sixth and ninth graders across the city are back in classrooms this week as part of the city’s Summer Bridge program. The weeklong initiative gives students who have just finished elementary and middle school the opportunity to get acclimated to a new campus and meet other students and new teachers.

It’s something D.C. Public Schools prides itself on offering, Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said, and the success of the ninth grade program prompted city leaders to offer it to sixth graders for the first time this year.

“That transition from elementary to middle school is quite different, especially for our students that are looking to connect with others,” Ferebee said, not long after speaking with a group of students who he said didn’t know each other before Thursday. “Peer relationships are so important at that age.”

The program looks different depending on the school and can include things such as a locker combination competition or scavenger hunt to get students familiar with the building.

At Bard, part of the conversation is about academics. There, students have the opportunity to graduate with a high school diploma and associate’s degree for free. In last year’s senior class, 110 of 140 students graduated on time. At least 60 of the 110 got their associate’s degrees as well.

“I’m very excited because I get to participate in Early College Academy,” Ari, who attended classes Thursday, said. “That’s really a big deal for me because I want to go to college.”

Shyann was struck by the school’s gym and music room, which features a sound booth for students to practice their instruments. Mayor Muriel Bowser cut the ribbon on the school’s new campus in January.

“I don’t feel like it will be super, super hard or dreadful to be here,” Shyann said.

As part of the program, current students at Bard serve as mentors to help the freshmen adjust. Melissa Ivy, a second-year mentor, said she hopes students learn to be patient, because working toward a high school diploma and college degree is stressful and takes a lot of work.

Derrick Deal Jr. said he’s usually a nervous person but went out of his comfort zone when he decided to become a mentor. He said he enjoys talking to the new crop of students and being a leader.

“They’ll definitely, definitely be prepared for the first day of school with this experience,” he said.

The first day of school in D.C. is Aug. 28.

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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