We don't care What the people might say 'Cause we're gonna win Just any old way So be cool . . . BE COOL! Be calm . . . BE CALM! Be collected . . . BE COLLECTED! Right on!
Montgomery Blair High School today is a world unto itself. It is a world of bricks and mortar and blood and soul. It is the jazz music of the school band reverberating in the main hallway on a spring morning. It is hot, home-baked, giant chocolate-chip cookies on sale for 30 cents in the school cafeteria. It is WET PAINT signs in A building and crumbling brick in C building. It is loving Ms. Mazis' speech class and quaking in fear over Mr. Bridges' modern world history.
It is 1,725 students, 90 faculty members, four administrators, guidance counselors, librarians, hall monitors, a school nurse, cooks and custodians, within the boundaries of six buildings, 95 classrooms, three gymnasiums, athletic fields and three parking lots.
It is designer blue jeans and faded blue jeans and khakis and corduroys, alligator shirts and sweatshirts and Indian print shirts and silk shirts, running shoes and loafers and high-heels and Italian leather boots and Scandinavian clogs. It is Motown and reggae and country and punk-rock and new wave.
Above all, it is a melting pot of nations and cultures and races and values and traditions. It is a universe in the truest sense, a rich collection of vastly different kinds of people and experiences.
Like the Blair of 21 years ago, the school is still a repository of all-American youths with all-American values and tastes. It has students like Judy Versteeg, the 17-year-old senior editor of the school newspaper, Silver Chips, and a member of the varsity girls' swim team. And Kathy Lorenz, a striking blond cheerleader and local fashion model who was in the (rejuvenated) O'Debs sorority. And Rosanne Zusman, a member of the National Honor Society who studies French literature and plans to attend Brandeis University in the fall. And Denise Godbout, whose mother, Betty Graves Godbout, was part of the homogenous and orderly class that graduated 21 years ago.
Several times a week during her just completed senior year, Versteeg, a short, perky, dark blond, left her family's spacious home in Woodside at 5 a.m. for an hour-long workout in the White Oak swimming pool on Jackson Road. After laps of free-style, back-stroke and breast-stroke, she drove her parents' silver Honda to Blair.
Her day there began as a teacher's aide, editing Silver Chips copy or catching up on homework. Then it was speech class, English, advanced placement French, modern world history, and journalism II.
After school came more working out, either swimming practice or weightlifting on Blair's universal gym or running, and more time on the newspaper. When she got home she devoted 45 minutes to reading the newspapers and news magazines to which her parents subscribe. Most evenings she joined her father, an administrator at the National Institutes of Health, and her mother for dinner. In the evening there was homework and chats on the phone with friends. On weekends it was swim meets, basketball games and parties with Blair's B.S. (Boys' Service) Club, the school's imitation of a college fraternity (which caused resentment among some students who felt the group was "exclusive"). And there were weekend adventures to Georgetown and College Park.
Versteeg graduated 31st in her class on Monday. She will attend Indiana University in the fall.
Before they came to Blair, some friends of Judy Versteeg and Kathy Lorenz, like Jenny Golub, a cocaptain of the pompons, wanted to enroll in other high schools. Like many of the school's white students, who comprise 37 percent of the student body, they had heard rumors about racial tensions and fights and crime problems at Blair. Judy's friends from Sligo Junior High, most of whom lived north of the beltway in the Northwood High School atttendance area, wrote jokes about Blair in her ninth-grade year book. Jenny Golub tried to get permission to attend Springbrook High or Bethesda-Chevy Chase, but Montgomery County school officials refused, citing the need to keep white students at Blair to maintain racial balance. When Jenny Golub and Kathy Lorenz arrived at Blair they were miserable--for the first three weeks.
At the southern tip of the Blair boundary area, miles from Judy Versteeg's home, lives Keith (Anwar) Gilbert. His third-floor apartment is in a predominantly black high-rise on Maple Avenue. He and his mother and younger brother moved to Takoma Park from the District with a wave of low-income families in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
When he was seven, his mother converted to Islam and gave him the name Anwar Abdul Raham, which means "bright servant of God."
During the school year Gilbert awoke each day at 6 a.m., tucked his books under his arm and rode the school bus from Maple Avenue to Blair. He went to the cafeteria where he could get free milk and doughnuts provided by the federally funded program for low-income students whose families qualify for nutritional assistance.
A soft-spoken, articulate 18-year-old who played linebacker on the Blair Blazers' football team, Gilbert was determined to bolster his grades in four courses--English, psychology, black experience and horticulture--so he could enroll in the Capital Institute of Technology in Kensington to learn to be an engineer.
But for Gilbert and his friends from lower Takoma Park, life really began after school. Life was not Blair, but the subculture of Maple Avenue, a half-mile stretch of asphalt extending from the Takoma Park municipal building to a shady block of old Victorian homes, which is reputed to be Montgomery County's worst slum. It is at the Maple Avenue Deli and the nearby recreation center that Gilbert and his friends "play some ball" and plan parties and dances and just hang out. The recreation center directors, more than his teachers at Blair, gave him guidance. They picked him up and took him to dances on the weekends, organized ball games and rapped with him and his friends. He has never been in jail for "very long," he says, although some of his buddies have been arrested a number of times for "little things," such as riding minibikes without permits.
Recently, he says, the police have tried to force him and his friends out of the deli area that has been their favorite gathering spot. "Nobody is really hanging out there anymore," he says. "Most of us are just playing ball. We shoot a lot of ball. They love sports down on Maple Avenue."
Chris Vera speaks Spanish and English fluently. Her father, an employe at the Argentine Embassy, is from Ecuador. Her mother is American. Vera came to Blair each day, often in blue jeans and running shoes, from her family's home in Langley Park. At Blair she was a celebrity.
It is unlikely she would have achieved such star status 21 years ago. She is the school's consummate "jock." Vera, petite and vivacious, played guard on the girls' varsity basketball team (there were no girls' varsity sports in 1961), which this year aroused more school spirit than any other Blair team by winning the state title and finishing the season undefeated (the cheerleaders and pompons went to both the girls' and boys' games).
For Vera, high school was practicing, coaching youth teams in Silver Spring, marching in the school band and getting ready for next fall, when she will attend the University of Maryland on a full athletic scholarship.
The mix of students at Blair, combined with social changes that began in the 1960s, has altered nearly every aspect of the school. It has created new attitudes, styles and expectations. Unlike 1961, today there are few social stigmas. Just as there is little consternation over interracial dating ("Interracial couples? My God! We have kids from different hemispheres dating each other," says assistant principal Russell Fleury), there is sympathy, but little scorn, for students who get pregnant during high school. They can continue to attend classes (but are not allowed to bring infants to class) and can remain in school if they are married.
Around the corner from the main office is a wooden door that leads to the health room. In the waiting area stands a bookcase with pamphlets full of admonitions about cigarette smoking, drug use, herpes syndrome and advice on child-rearing and parenthood. Sharyn Jenkins is the school nurse on duty every day. Her office is a private room, conducive to conversations about the web of teen-age problems that result from uncertain futures, unstable families and changing times.
Jenkins is trained to counsel students on contraception, abortion, venereal disease, drug abuse and alcoholism.
Upstairs in the C building is a classroom for remedial students. Illiteracy was not considered an academic problem in 1961, but now Blair has three full-time teachers to help students who need to learn the alphabet, syllables, spelling, writing and reading.
The 161 courses in the curriculum reflect the universe of the Silver Spring community. Faculty members can get haircuts and manicures in the Blair cosmetology center, and their cars repaired at the auto shop.
Students can take a class called "The Black Experience in America" (the study of oppressed peoples), or economics, gourmet cooking, child care (Blair students run a neighborhood day-care center on campus), interior design and horticulture. Or advanced placement physics, chemistry, calculus, French, Spanish and German.
Although many students at Blair resent being categorized by groups--"everybody here gets along great," is a frequent rejoinder--the variety of worlds at Blair is apparent to anyone who visits the school.
A group of Jamaicans, wearing Bob Marley and the Wailers T-shirts, in honor of the island's top reggae band, control the turf at the first-floor intersection of the C and D buildings. Judy Versteeg and her friends in the Boys' Service Club and the Clan hold down the corridor next to the main office and the Blair seal.
The "freaks," identified by blue jeans and denim jackets, and the "rednecks" (baseball caps), own the territory next to Errter's market on the edge of the faculty parking lot. (Jack Errter, who owned the store in 1961, was a heroic figure to Blair students. Now, like many of the area's neighborhood groceries, Errter's is owned by an Asian refugee family.) The Maple Avenue crowd hangs out in the breezeway.
Blair today is like a huge planet whose students are satellites that circle it. And sometimes their orbits intersect.