Washington's model academic high school opened last year with borrowed books and no laboratory facilities, but with 297 of the city's brightest students and with high hopes for success.
But administrators at Banneker Senior High have received a rude awakening, according to a 110-page report on the school's first year of operation.
School officials quickly discovered that many of their students lacked good study habits, motivation and the ability to handle their time efficiently, while nearly one of every eight students needed special help to keep up with the rigorous program.
"The fact that 35 students needed extensive tutoring was very serious to me," Mazie Wilson, the school's principal, said yesterday. "One of the criteria for admission was that a student had to be in the top 18 percent of the class, and we were all surprised that so many needed help."
After its shaky start, however, the school succeeded in helping its students cope with a demanding schedule that includes 45 hours of volunteer work each school year and five times the amount of after school-study its average student had been assigned before coming to Banneker.
The result was that Banneker's students performed well above national and D.C. public school norms in standardized tests given last year, scoring at college freshmen levels in mathematics tests and showing that a select group of Washington students can excel.
"For some students, the transition has been slow and discouraging," Wilson said, "but those who remained committed were successful and most of them did remain committed ."
The report was prepared by the school system's Division of Quality Assurance, which reviews various school programs. It offers one of the first comprehensive records of the emerging student body and operations at the school, which opened last year in a former junior high school on Georgia Avenue and Euclid Street NW.
"Most of the students who entered here with grades of A and B in their old schools started out at the C and D level here," said Robert D. Steptoe, Banneker's assistant principal. "Many had become rather lazy in their old schools, where they could be at the top of their class with little effort."
A survey of the students found that the average student had spent only 4.1 to 4.4 hours a week on homework before attending Banneker, said the report. "Here we demand, as a minimum, three hours of study a night and prefer four hours," Wilson said.
Cecil Middleton, who was the principal last year, withheld the report cards of those students who were flunking in many subjects, to prevent them from being discouraged. Teachers came in early and worked through their lunch hours and after school to tutor students, the report noted.
Some retired secondary school teachers were called in to assist. Howard University's Center for Academic Reinforcement also sent in tutors, according to Middleton.
In the end, only 13 students withdrew during the last school year and only three are repeating all their ninth-grade courses.
Nevertheless, the report recommends that Banneker's admissions standards, which require that students perform in the top 18 percent of their class, should be tightened and should include an assessment of the students' study skills.
Middleton disagrees, saying that stricter admissions standards would deny entrance to children who eventually could cope with the work.
"I would rather see the school system strengthen its overall programs," he said. "Some children just haven't had the background to cope at a school like this."
Banneker is operating below its optimal student enrollment. Students filled 297 of 300 seats for the ninth and tenth grades last year and this year the school is operating with an 11th grade as well. But it has a total of only 355 students, which is far below the 450 that it is equipped to handle.
"Quite a few applied who didn't meet the admissions standards," said Steptoe. "We are trying to build popularity in the community. The kids are out on the street selling the school."
Questionnaires given to students, teachers and parents indicated that they felt the school's equipment, library and science materials needed considerable improvement. This year the students have new textbooks and two science labobratories are being built.
One fear of critics had been that the school would become dominated by students from Ward 3, the city's predominantly white and affluent communities west of Rock Creek Park. With that in mind, the school board adopted guidelines to prevent this uneven enrollment. But exactly the opposite occured: Only two white students were enrolled last year, and no students came from the region west of the park.
"Several students who were originally selected from Ward 3 either attended a day or two and did not return and/or did not report to Banneker in September 1981," the report says.
Although the school was designed to offer the parents of high-achievers in the D.C. school system an alternative to private schools, the school also managed to draw 43 students, or 15.8 percent of its enrollment last year, from private and Catholic schools in Washington and the suburbs.
James Vaughan, a 14-year-old ninth-grader who attended the private Wade School on Michigan Avenue NE last year, said recently that he is glad he decided to come to Banneker.
"I heard about it and I just wanted to come," said Vaughan after playing the role of Oedipus in an English class. "It's harder to get good grades here. They give you a lot of work."
Three out of every four students at Banneker are female, according to the report. School officials said the reason could be that the girls are more academically inclined and boys might have been dissuaded from applying because the school has no compettive athletic teams. The report suggested that Banneker consider adding competitive sports.
The report also found that few students complained about a school day that could start as early as 7:40 a.m. with computer literacy and Latin and end as late as 4:30 or 5 p.m. after the school's mandatory volunteer work. Some students fulfilled this assignment by acting as aides in the city's libraries or as volunteers in D.C. hospitals.
Marvin Banks, the school's security aide, says that the atmosphere of the school is far different from that of Shaw Junior High, where he had worked for eight years.
"It's like a college here," Banks said. "The kids are very respectful. After being used to almost booting kids into class at Shaw, here I find I had to get out of their way or get run over by kids rushing to class.