Over Spring Break, Kristina Vidal and I did an extreme makeover to a couple bathrooms at Eliot-Hine Middle School. Both Kristina and I have daughters who are going to attend 6th grade at Eliot-Hine next fall. Stories about the bathrooms at Eliot-Hine are infamous. A couple years ago there weren’t stall doors in the girl’s bathroom. Stall doors were installed a year ago, but frankly the bathrooms looked pretty sad. A black privacy screen greeted you when you went in the bathrooms, along with a dingy beige cover over the radiators, tan tiles, and off-white walls. Nothing a couple cans of paint, mirrors, wall murals and plants couldn’t solve, we thought. Kristina and I wanted the current students to be excited when they returned from Spring Break to see their bathrooms extremely made over.
As we scraped, painted, installed mirrors, smoothed out murals, and scrubbed, I realized the Eliot-Hine bathrooms weren’t the only thing that needed an extreme makeover. Maybe our attitude about Eliot-Hine needed an extreme makeover. Much has happened at Eliot-Hine in the past few years. As part of a multi-year effort to implement the Ward 6 Middle School Plan, Eliot-Hine became authorized as an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme under the leadership of Principal Tynika Young in November 2015. The Eliot-Hine radio program gives students an opportunity to learn broadcasting skills, and students have interviewed an impressive lineup of guests including former Mayor Vincent Gray, Queen Latifah, Mayor Muriel Bowser, and Rev. Jesse Jackson. Students from Eliot-Hine placed first in the LEGO Robotics competition, and the school’s Concert Band received a superior rating in the DCPS Music Festival. The school grounds have been beautified through the efforts of parents and Casey Trees that planted over 50 trees last spring. Yet for all the progress made at Eliot-Hine, the enrollment at the school is currently just over 200 students, and next year’s enrollment is projected to slip below 200.
For all Mayor Bowser’s talk about an “Alice Deal for All,” a reference to Alice Deal Middle School in Ward 3 arguably the city’s most successful middle school with an enrollment well over 900 students, the recently released Capital Improvement Plan has Eliot-Hine waiting till 2019 until it’s renovated. Small gains have been made at improving the school – it’s in the process of getting a new science lab, and while we were renovating the bathrooms, the library got a total makeover with all new furniture (no new books though), and new white boards were installed in all the classrooms. While facilities aren’t the only thing prospective families look for in a middle school, the current Eliot-Hine building isn’t going to get families excited about the school.
So what would an extreme attitude makeover towards Eliot-Hine look like? First, we can start viewing Eliot-Hine as a 6.4 acre middle school campus. Yes, the building and school grounds sit on a whopping 6.4 acres of land that includes a full-sized baseball field on the eastern edge of the campus! Maybe the Mayor should see the asset she has in this 6.4 acre campus, and move Eliot-Hine (and all middle schools) up in the renovation queue. And most importantly, we need to understand the IB programme is a whole school endeavor, and the students at Eliot-Hine are receiving a broad and balanced education in eight subject areas including literature, sciences, arts, math, and acquiring a second language. Yes, maybe that’s what it will take, an extreme attitude makeover in how we view Eliot-Hine, before it becomes a middle school of choice for families.