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Touring Young Scholars Frederick Douglass

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Recently I was invited for a tour of Young Scholars Frederick Douglass, one of the District’s Renaissance Schools. Julia Pearlman, development and administration coordinator for Scholar Academies, contacted me after reading my post where I recalled my time at Douglass.

I was excited on the morning of the tour; this would be my first time entering the school since being promoted to the 6th grade 10 years ago.

There is a lot happening at Young Scholars Frederick Douglass, more than when I attended. The idea that a much brighter future can be obtained by a college education is put into the minds of these young scholars at an early age, and that is what I enjoyed learning most as I was guided through the school.

Upon arriving and being greeted by Julia, our tour began on the first floor where I passed both my pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes. Memories began to come to mind of significant events that had taken place in those classrooms that I had not thought about in years.

When passing my kindergarten class, I caught a glimpse of a student raising his hand in response to a question from his teacher. I saw myself in that student for a brief moment. There were times when I was that student’s age that I excitedly waited to be called upon by my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Dancy.

Unlike when I attended, Young Scholars Frederick Douglass is now split between younger students, kindergarten through 4th grade, and older students, 5th through 8th. As Julia and I began making our way toward the older grades, I began seeing hung in each hallway banners stating the year students from a specific class will graduate.

Hanging alongside each banner are Douglass’ core values, P.A.T.H.: professional, attentive, thoughtful, and hardworking. In addition to hanging students’ work throughout the halls, Douglass also hangs the flags of many colleges and universities from around the country.

Each homeroom within Douglass is named after a college or university, which I thought to be an interesting and creative thing to do. This is done as a method to build class unity, familiarize students with the ideal of a higher education, and ultimately help them become college ready. I visited the homeroom named Villanova; it’s directly across from my former 5th grade classroom.

The older students of Young Scholars visit the university after which their homeroom is named. I remember the first time I visited a college, but it wasn’t until I was near my teenage years.

One stop that I enjoyed while being in Douglass was returning to my 2nd grade classroom, even if it’s not used too much as a classroom anymore. I looked at the chalkboards and remembered the rude chart (a simple chart used by the teacher to keep track of who was polite/rude in class) that my teacher, Mrs. Powell, placed us in charge of. I saw the coat closet, where at one point I hid in to surprise the class and Mrs. Powell when they thought they had played a joked on me.

I was so short at the time, so it just felt strange to be in the classroom now and realizing, “Hey I’m taller than this door now.”

Most of the classrooms from when I attended are still in use, either as a classroom or an area for teachers and staff to meet. The library dramatically changed from when I used to use it. One major difference is that there is more than one working computer. Young Scholars holds its parent meetings in the library.

On the way to the lunchroom, I saw a line of 1st graders being led to their classrooms; they were all wearing yellow shirts. Julia explained to me that the different colored shirts are used to help create a culture of success by establishing a sense of community within each grade. This also helps the adults within Douglass to quickly identify students and address them appropriately. The kindergartners and 1st graders wear yellow, while the 2nd graders wear blue.

The older grades also wear colored shirts, a maroon uniform shirt that is emblazoned with the Young Scholars Frederick Douglass logo, tucked into khaki pants.

“The uniform, though seemingly basic, is a critical component in our mission to give our students the high quality education they deserve.” Julia explained.

In the lunchroom things were pretty much the same as I had remembered. The long ropes that we used to climb up for class challenges were still there hanging to one side of the lunchroom. The students were playing, reminding me of the time I won a game of basketball for my 5th grade class.

It’s hard to believe that the Douglass I knew has changed so much, but maybe it has done so for the better. Julia told me that before Young Scholars arrived, Douglass had been through seven principals within seven years and that students were mostly roaming the hallways.

There was none of that as I walked through the halls. Everything was orderly, students were in their respective classrooms learning, and looked to be enjoying it. I honestly believe that the students presently at Young Scholars Frederick Douglass will have the same warm memories that I have of Douglass, and I know that from visiting, I was able to form a few more.