- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2005

Joshua Kern saw something striking in students at Ballou Senior High School as they walked through metal detectors and were patted down by security guards each morning: Their faces showed a resilient refusal to fail, and many carried a courageous spirit coupled with a willingness to learn.

“There are kids with a lot of potential who for the most part are excited about learning and have aspirations and dreams,” said Mr. Kern, a former Georgetown University law student who taught a law course at Ballou. “Then you see a system in place that isn’t enabling the kids to tap into that potential.”

Mr. Kern’s time at the beleaguered school in Southeast, where a student was fatally shot in February 2004, inspired him and a group of fellow Georgetown law students and faculty to establish the Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School to serve the often neglected neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

The academy opened its doors in 2001 in a cramped church on Alabama Avenue Southeast. That year, 80 ninth-grade students were enrolled. Today, the school has moved into a renovated, state-of-the-art facility at the former Nichols Avenue Elementary School building at 2427 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE.

The location is fitting for a school that once was only an idea and a dream.

“When they walk into this building, [the students] stand a little straighter and a little taller, and they feel better about themselves,” said Mr. Kern, the academy’s president and co-founder. “That’s a remarkable and significant difference.”

The building and property — which cost about $12 million and will be dedicated tomorrow — are across the street from the Anacostia Metro station, serving as a gateway to historic Anacostia and a symbol of success in an area poised for economic and community development.

Most of the school’s students come from the impoverished areas of Anacostia and Congress Heights.

Last year, the academy graduated all 18 students in its first senior class, and all 18 were accepted and enrolled in colleges nationwide.

This year, the school has 324 students enrolled in ninth through 12th grades. With a new building that features floor-to-ceiling windows and wood floors, the students’ prospects for a post-high-school education now seem sky-high.

The new building also features a gymnasium, science labs, a 10,000-volume library and a moot court room.

“It gives them a peace of mind that they have their own building,” said Jennifer Hill-Flowers, whose two daughters attend the school. “They have more pride in the facility. I couldn’t have a better blessing than to get them into Thurgood Marshall Academy.”

School officials attribute their success to a law-themed, college preparatory curriculum that requires students to present course information as professional law briefs.

The academy also operates nearly year-round on an extended school-day schedule and partners with several law firms for tutoring and mentoring programs.

“It’s extraordinarily beneficial to our students,” said David Schlossman, the school’s development director. “They’re getting the tutoring they need and getting to be in a professional environment and interact with people who have succeeded by going to college.”

For Mr. Kern, the new building coupled with the challenging curriculum represents a type of poetic justice for an impoverished but improving community.

“If you set high expectations and then you provide the system of support that surrounds the kids, then you’re succeeding,” he said. “Then you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”

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