- The Washington Times - Monday, October 12, 2009

The bad news about public schools often discolors the good, but there are schools that are preparing youths for life, college careers and bright futures. This is one parent’s experience as her daughter rises through Suitland High School in Prince George’s County.

It was a Monday morning and the opening day of school in September 2006, and I took my daughter to Suitland High School. On the spur of the moment, I parked my car and entered the building. Upon entering the lobby, being new to the public school experience, I had the initial reaction of, “What in the world have I done?”

The lobby was very busy, with students needing directions and other parents waiting to see counselors and administrators. The orchestration of all these logistics was unbelievable, especially for me; I was accustomed to a small-school environment of 300 compared with an enrollment of 2,400. I met with the principal, Mark E. Fossett, shortly afterward, and with Bernard Battle, the parent liaison. It was a very good conversation, and when I returned home, I felt relieved and convinced that my child would receive a good education and a positive high school experience.

After three years of walking the halls at Suitland, attending Parent Teacher Student Association meetings and Parent Action Committee meetings and just being involved, I can say that it has been an awesome experience. There is no doubt in my mind that my daughter is enrolled in the best school in the county. The numerous programs offered at Suitland are preparing our youths well. What is not highlighted often is that Suitland has some of the most intelligent and gifted youth in Prince George’s County.

Suitland offers the International Baccalaureate diploma program, Center for Visual and Performing Arts, Academy of Finance and Technical Academy. Each is prestigious in its own right. The International Baccalaureate program, coordinated by Myrtle Brijbasi, is recognized by universities in the United States and around the world. Under her leadership, dedication and high standards, students are graduating with a world-class education and entering college with attractive scholarship offers, college credits or advanced standing.

The Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, under the direction of Maria L. Saldana, receives applications from talented youths who live all over the county. They audition to participate in dance, theater, visual arts, vocal and instrumental music. Ms. Saldana and her highly skilled instructors help the students excel in local, national and international competitions, often bringing home first-place honors. Upon graduation, many program alumni attend four-year colleges on scholarships and gain admission to prestigious art schools and conservatories. Last year, the seniors in this program alone garnered more than $7 million in scholarship offers.

In Suitland’s Academy of Finance, students prepare for careers in business, finance and management. Through its entrepreneurship program, they receive excellent preparation and guidance for starting their own businesses. Many also have earned college scholarships to pursue their dreams in business and finance after participating in local and national competitions.

The Suitland Technical Academy has an industry certification program that enables students to train in auto body repair, cosmetology, plumbing and heating, barbering, carpentry, nursing and other vocations. The vast opportunities are far beyond what typically is available at most high schools.

In addition to academic and career-training programs, students participate in a variety of sports, extracurricular activities, clubs and organizations. Students also have the opportunity to be part of the journalism class, which publishes the school newspaper, the Echo, and the Collaborations literary magazine. The magazine is a compilation of students’ literary works and a true representation of great talent. Lois Breaux and Talmach White are faculty advisers who help students eloquently express their thoughts on paper.

The athletic program is also one of the best in the county and state. I will never forget my first football game, when the students and faculty were just one big happy family. Since that game, I have not missed many and continue to enjoy the success of our team. In December, we lost state-championship-winning Coach David “Nick” Lynch, who was a positive role model at Suitland and across the county. Lynch’s legacy is not just Suitland’s success on the field, but also the genuine love, affection and respect from the community that continue to be driving forces at Suitland.

Suitland also is among 19 Prince George’s high schools that have a peer-mediation program to train students in conflict resolution to promote a physically and psychologically safe school climate.

This is my daughter’s third year at Suitland, and it has been an awesome academic experience for her. She is an IB student, and she has been able to face her challenges head-on as she continues to succeed.

As a concerned and active parent, I am very pleased with what I have observed on a daily basis - and I mean daily. You will find that parents who constantly complain at most schools are parents who have limited involvement or are not involved at all.

Donna Stroman is a writer living in Prince George’s County.