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Trouble Waits After Class Is Dismissed

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Students eager to learn, educators ready to teach, a

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resource-endowed school. That winning combination exists within Friendship Collegiate Academy, a college preparatory charter high school on Minnesota Avenue in Northeast. The academy is one of five Friendship Public Charter School campuses in the District.

The academy also has an unwanted component: school dropouts who live in the nearby Mayfair Mansions housing complex and a gang called the 37th Street Crew. These rival groups congregate around the Metro station directly across the street from the academy at the end of school day, and they make the lives of students a living hell.

That is the face of urban education that cities don't want shown.

It's easy to sloganize about the need to build a world-class school system, to cast local education battles as a colossal struggle between the forces of reform and the status quo, to slice and dice school issues based on agendas related more to power than to learning.

Those adult quarrels have no bearing on the paralyzing fear of children who sit in class knowing that trouble waits outside at the end of the day. That dread of violence, not the District's standing in the academic world, is the reality with which Friendship's students must cope.

A disclosure: I'm personally acquainted with Friendship Charter School leaders and have served as commencement speaker at one of the schools.

Academy students, drawn from mostly low-income homes, are tackling tough courses, completing their diplomas, most going on to college. Last year, the College Board presented Friendship Collegiate Academy its prestigious Inspiration Award, which recognizes the nation's most improved high schools.

So, yes, I was angry Wednesday morning after reading an e-mail from Friendship's board chairman, Donald Hense, that arrived with the subject line: "HELP."

Mayfair Mansion toughs and the 37th Street Crew, mostly young men, have been feuding since a youth was killed walking across Minnesota Avenue, Hense said. The two groups congregate, he said, at the Metro stop about the time Friendship's students are being let out of school. They "bully, threaten, and sometimes beat up our kids, who are easily recognizable." He added, "It often comes with the fighters demanding to know where the kid lives, and if they live in the wrong neighborhood, they get beat up."

Girls, most of them dropouts, according to Hense, also hang out around the Metro stop, looking for rivals. Hense said he has videos of the altercations, which he described as "horrendous."

Hense explained that he was asking for help because the D.C. police officer assigned to the academy as a school resource officer had been pulled out because police headquarters believed only regular public schools, not public charter schools, were entitled to resource officers.

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