Guest speaker Mayor Marion Barry Jr. had them cheering for joy at the D.C. Street Academy graduation last week at the National Guard Armory.
But valedictorian LaNita Devore twice left them whistling and clapping in the aisles as she accepted numerous academic awards, including a high school equivalency certificate and the first D.C. Street Academy diploma awarded in the 10-year history of the school.
Not bad for a junior high school dropout who stayed out of school five years before enrolling at the D.C. Street Academy a year and a half ago.
Repeating the theme of the ceremony in her valedictory address, the pert, dimpled, 19-year-old, an A student at the academy, told her classmates, "We shall meet the future with these words: if it is to be, it is up to me."
Later, Devore's mtoher stood batting back tears as she hugged her daughter.
"I'm just really happy she decided to go back to school," said Doris Devore. "It was a struggle. She stayed up all hours of the night studying, but she made it."
Cheered on by their friends, families, teachers, students and academy alumni, a dozen other youths received equivalency diplomas from Academy Director David Hall."
The awards ceremony, which was punctuated by the air of success, reached another climax when English instructor Harold Chinn learned that the school's renovated library would be named in his honor.
"I never felt at anytime in my life I would be at a loss for words," said the school's elder statesman as he choked on the words.
Throughout the evening, the often emotional ceremony was viewed by the mayor from a front row seat.
Earlier he had told the students, "This is the beginning of what you should be doing and not the end. I just urge you to keep on struggling and not get discouraged."
In addition to the diplomas that were distributed, several students received honor awards for excellence in academic achievements, the arts, community service, career development and leadership.
At the academy, students are required to master at least 80 percent of a course subject before they move on to the next area in that course. Students who master more than 80 percent of the work in a subject unit - for example a math unit may begin with simple addition and end six courses later with algebra - qualify for honors.
The ceremony concluded with the group of nearly 200 people singing the school's alma mater, written by Rickey Payton, class of '77.
The D.C. Street Academy, at 10th and Monroe streets NE, is a alternative school, certified by the D.C. Board of Education, for public school equivalency diploma. The students, however, see the school as much more than just an academic training ground.
To Jackie Robinson Lawrence, 19, the school is a second home. To LaNita Devore and James E. Cooper, 22, it was a friendly haven from some of the peer pressure and personal problems that they said drove them out of the public schools.
"The people here are just like your brothers and sisters," Robinson said.
"I remember thinking how friendly everybody was," Devore added.
"I think there are more positive vibes in the Street Academy than public school," Cooper concluded.
"The instructors (at the academy) work with you more," said Devore. "They don't move you along if you're not doing well. It's nice coming here, if you want to learn. I'm a little more self-confident now."
Devore said she eventually wants to study law at Georgetown University.
Cooper, a McKinley High School dropout, said he left school during his senior year to become a breadwinner for his family. Most of his classes at McKinley were just busy work, he said.
"I guess you could blame 50 percent on overcrowding. But the other 50 percent was that the teachers had the attitude, 'We have ours.If you want yours, you have to get it,'" Cooper said.
After spending one semester at the academy, Cooper said he passed the exam to receive his equivalency diploma. Now he wants to study commercial art.
A walk through the academy reveals a range of students, but all with dreams of learning. Instructor Isaac Stoney contends that the youths learn because "we eliminate the excuses from learning."
He said instructors have held babies while students, unable to find babysitters, took exams. Transportation slips or tokens are provided for students who need carfare. And attitude or social problems are tackled by counselors and instructors in orientation sessions, held three days before each semester begins.
The school is supported by the United Way, the United Black Fund, individual donations and private corporations. Its students are 16 to 22 years old.
While some academy students are barely able to read, instructors said others have academic skills and minds that were never challenged in public school.
"In orientation, we can identify minor problems and show youth how important it is to be an individual as well as part of a group," said instructor Edward Mosley, who is also deputy director of the academy.
The school stresses the same academic subjects as the public schools. Field trips, guest lectures, cultural arts programs and creative class projects that are part-encounter session and part-rap session, round out the learning experience.
Students with high reading skills usually graduate within a year, said David Hall, director of the academy. Slower students remain in the academy four years. Most graduates go to work, but some - about 10 a year - enter college, said Hall.
The 1978-79 D.C. Street Academy graduates: Shari Carney, Gaynell Cheek, James Cooper, Gail Corbin, LaNita Devore, Kenneth Epps, Lionel Harris, Dolleene Lewis, Kevin Merrick, David Odom, Eileen Sanders and Lorenzo Watts.
Fifteen students are still awaiting test results following a computer breakdown at the center grading the exams.
Awards for academic, art and service achievements were presented to: Ann Aiken, Angelo Ashton, Evelyn Aull, Anthony Baugh, Anthony Beckett, Leona Bell, Terri Bennaugh, Lloyd Black, Paulette Butler, Velisa Carter, Gaynell Cheek, Galen Clemons, James Cooper, Terri Cooper, LaNita Devore, William Dews, Kenneth Epps, Wannetta Fortney, Michael Gaston, William Graham, Anthony Green, Lafayette Green, Margaret Greenhow, Pamela Harland, Shelia Herring, Terrance Hill, Cecelia Hinson, Stephanie Hodge, Jimmie Howell, LaTonya Jackson, Eugene Jacobs, Mary Ann Jacobs, Donald Jefferson, Terry Jenning, Jackie Lawrence, Kathy Lee, Ronald Moody, Carol Moses, Sharon Murphy, Rose McKenzie, Jarvis Penny, Carolyn Poindexter, Kim Price, James Proctor, Felton Richardson, Tamara Seaborn, Vernell Shipman, Joseph Speight, Cassandra Sullivan, Victoria Tewell, Robin Walker, James Washington, Patricia Washington, Georgiana Welch, Sandra White, David Whitfield, Kevin Williams, Tony Wright, Cheryl Yeager.
Humanitarian awards also were presented to Kay Fisher and Thursa Thomas of WJLA television. CAPTION: Picture, The D.C. Street Academy at 10th and Monroe streets NE. By Craig Herndon - The Washington Post