Oxon Hill High students excited about new school

November 23, 2011

Oxon Hill High School freshman Catherine Taylor-Wilk said that in her science class of more than 20 people, there is not enough space for desks, so some students have to sit at laboratory stations, near the back of the classroom, used to conduct experiments and hands-on activities.

But when construction on a new Oxon Hill High School is completed — work will start next month and is estimated to be finished in August 2013 — Catherine will be among the first classes of seniors to graduate from the new building. And she hopes the classrooms will have enough space to accommodate desks for current and future students.

Construction on a new 251,700-square-foot building next to the existing school, which will be demolished once students move into the new school, is part of an $82.2 million project that will also see a new football stadium and bleachers, scheduled to be completed by August, and construction on remaining athletics fields to be done by August 2014. The state will contribute about 22 percent of the project’s costs, with the county paying the rest.

The new school’s main entrance will be at Felker Avenue leading to to Oxon Hill Road, about a mile and a half from where a new Wal-Mart is slated to open by 2013, Principal Jean-Paul Cadet said.

With the new football stadium and lights, the school will be able to hold Friday night football games to showcase students’ athletic talents to college recruiters, PTSA President Tonya Lawson said.

Recruiters usually won’t come out for Saturday games because that’s when college games take place, she said, so Fridays are definitely more convenient.

“We’re absolutely excited about it,” Lawson said.

The current school building, built in 1959 with several additions throughout the years, is outdated, according to Prince George’s County public schools. Its classrooms and hallway spaces are cramped, with an old auditorium stage and broken or creaky seating in the multipurpose room.

New features will include an 800-seat auditorium, expanded hallways and classrooms, and science and computer labs to accommodate the school’s technology emphasis and five theme-based learning academies: science and technology; business management and finance; arts and media communication; hospitality and tourism; and consumer services.

But the new Oxon Hill High will hold fewer students than the existing building, with a capacity of 1,200 compared with current capacity of 1,800 and enrollment nearing 1,700 students.

In 2006, the Prince George’s Board of Education planned for the building to hold 2,300 students after enrollment at the south county facility soared to that number several years ago.

Oxon Hill High School is one of three schools in the county that offers a science and technology program, a magnet program with a selective admissions process that has a core focus in science and mathematics.

About 440 students are in the program at Oxon Hill High. The other two schools are Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt and Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Springdale, both of which are over capacity.

Officials such as District 8 County Councilman Obie Patterson are in the process of appealing to the state to reevaluate the new building’s capacity.

In a letter this month to Maryland Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, Patterson said he was concerned that there were students “not accounted for in the school formula for future enrollment.”

“We cannot afford to build a new school that on opening day will not meet the needs of each student and eventually end with students being taught in temporary shelters,” he wrote to Franchot, who serves on the state’s Board of Public Works.

County school board member Edward P. Burroughs III (District 8) said the state projected that overflow students could be moved to nearby Crossland High School in Temple Hills or Potomac High School in Oxon Hill, which are underenrolled. However, he added, the new Oxon Hill High building is designed to allow for expansion with extra hallways that can be attached to the building as needed.

Core areas such as hallways and the cafeteria will be built to accommodate about 2,300 students, he said.

“I strongly urge [Franchot] and his colleagues to consider granting Oxon Hill more seats, because in my opinion, it seems a little shortsighted to build the school for 1,200 seats when right now the school has 1,600 seats,” he said.

Joe Shapiro, a spokesman for Franchot, said a copy of Patterson’s letter was forwarded to the state’s Interagency Committee on School Construction, which will review the request.

Despite capacity concerns, sophomore Elania Tait said she hopes a new school building will encourage students to perform better academically and become good role models for others.

Oxon Hill High did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress, or federally mandated achievement goals, for the 2010-2011 school year and was placed on the school improvement list this year along with 14 county high schools after failing to make AYP for two consecutive years.

Cadet said the school also will have wireless capability, allowing students and teachers to bring in laptops to access information for projects and assignments.

“When you’re referring to the 21st-century student, it’s important to have a 21st-century classroom to help them reach their greatest potential in that level of environment,” he said.

Freshman Isaiah Burroughs said it gets him upset that the school has a reputation for being unsafe, with reports of students who have gotten into fights or skipped classes or been involved in drugs and other criminal activities.

“For every one kid that gets into trouble, there are 20 students who are making high GPAs and honor roll and working hard in class,” he said.

Sophomore Chance Albury said he feels school spirit is down because of Oxon Hill High’s reputation, but a new building will renew students’ respect and appreciation for the school.

“I’m looking forward to bringing the Clipper pride back,” he said.

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