Banneker students: A shining example

Today as the President delivered his back to school message to students, I had the privilege to meet with students at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, a public high school here in the District.  (The school is named after a famous African American astronomer and mathematician, who published a series of almanacs in the late 18th century and corresponded with Thomas Jefferson about the cruelty of slavery.)  Banneker has an impressive 100 percent graduation rate and college enrollment rate – and thus offers an inspiring example of overcoming multiple barriers to educational success.

The school is open from 7 am to 7:30 pm, so that students have a place to study throughout the day.  And it requires its students to undertake almost 300 hours of community service.  During my visit, I was chaperoned by two student guides (both of whom were juniors) who brought me to the three hubs on campus where students congregate most: the high school library, where the banks of computers were full of students working on papers and completing assignments; the school gym (which was empty, but would be the location of a pickup lunchtime volleyball game within minutes); and the guidance office, which was literally hopping with seniors working on their college applications.   
To be sure, the school enjoys some benefits: Students must apply to attend, and there are roughly 500 to 600 applicants for each incoming class of 125.  It also has a somewhat lower share of students receiving free or reduced price lunches (which is dependent on family income) than the average for the nation as a whole.  Nonetheless, the school clearly out-performs in its graduation and college placement rates, in part by setting expectations high and holding students to them.

It was clear as I spoke with people in the halls and during a session I had with the students that they have carved out impressive goals for themselves and have worked hard to earn the grades necessary to see them through.  One student hoped to attend MIT and become a physicist; several wanted to become doctors; and another turned away from her dreams of attending one school when she learned that another had a program that better fit her interests.
To the students of Banneker, I would just say: keep it up!  Your stories are impressive and inspiring.

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