On a recent school day Jabari Sellars set about teaching the meaning of “bildungsroman” to his freshman English class at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School. But it was early in the morning and late in the school year and attention was short for the long German word.
There were groans and yawns initially, but Sellars, 29, captured student interest by pointing to examples of the bildungsroman, or coming-of-age tale, in such popular movies as “Straight Outta Compton,” “Batman” and “Burning Sands.” Soon, the young teens were engaged in spirited conversations about characteristics of these stories, including loss of innocence, newfound independence and responsibility, and physical and mental growth.
The just-concluding academic year has also been a coming-of-age story of sorts for Ron Brown. It opened in August in Northeast Washington’s Deanwood neighborhood as the District’s only public single-sex high school amid a mix of excitement about its possibilities and doubts about what it could achieve. Now, administrators, teachers and students are taking stock, gauging their progress and assessing what the future holds as the school aims to ready these young men for college.
For Tremayne Warren, 14, this year has been transformative in ways he never expected. Like many classmates, he began the year not wanting to attend an all-boys school and swearing that he’d only spend one year there before transferring. There were difficult stretches along the way, but he said the school has helped him mature as a student and a person.
“I had some trouble with teachers,” Warren said. “I didn’t like being told what to do, but I realized that by hurting them I’m only hurting myself. I wasn’t caring. I was only thinking about myself. I’ve learned to care about other people’s feelings, and that helped me find out who I am. Now I know who I am, and I’m not afraid to show it.”
Like almost all of his fellow freshmen, Warren, who was wearing the school’s required blue blazer, white shirt and purple-and-gold striped tie, is returning in the fall and he’s happy about it. For now, just five of the 102 students who began the year are not planning to come back. Ron Brown launched with ninth-graders only and will expand each year until it reaches full size in fall 2019. The Washington Post has tracked the school’s debut since a student orientation last summer.