At Bowie High School, class isn’t just where students go. It’s also what students bring.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the school’s Gentlemen’s Club and Ladies With Class organizations, groups that have worked to build a sense of respect and decorum among their members.
Both groups were formed as school leaders saw a wave of crassness at the school, said Joseph Tidwell, a school security assistant, who helped found the club. The idea for the group came as Tidwell saw a wave of teenagers wearing sagging pants, he said.
“You should never see a gentleman with his pants hanging off his buttocks,” he said. “They’re supposed to do things that reflect how a young man should act.”
Ladies With Class, a sister organization to the Gentlemen’s Club, was formed shortly thereafter and is led by Denise Swann, a math teacher at the school.
Group members serve as positive role models, Principal Drewana Bey said. For young men, in particular, the group provides a needed service outlet, she said.
“I hate to say it, but males tend to get a bad rap in terms of community service and what they represent in the school,” she said. “The Gentlemen’s Club provides a whole different insight in terms of what a person should be.”
Measuring the clubs’ effects on the overall student population over the years is difficult, said Steve McIntyre, adviser for the Gentlemen’s Club.
“You hope they have a positive impact,” he said.
To become a member of the Gentlemen’s Club, a student has to be nominated by a teacher and go through an interview process with the club and McIntyre.
Ladies With Class requires applicants to go through an interview process with club officers. Swann also lets students submit application packets.
The Gentlemen’s Club isn’t about turning around men who are at a crossroads, Tidwell said.
“It’s a process of becoming a gentleman,” he said. “We’re not changing individuals; we’re trying to show [their] talent.”
Kevin Ocampos-Barry, president of the Gentlemen’s Club, said he can see a change in himself due to being in the club.
“I will definitely carry myself in a better manner than I did before,” the 17-year-old said. “Before the Gentlemen’s Club, I wasn’t completely polite to everybody; I used to talk casual to everybody. I put myself before everybody.”
Through Ladies With Class, Nancy Sanjines has met new friends, she said.
“As a senior, sometimes people are like, ‘Why would you talk to that junior?’ ‘Why would you talk to this sophomore?’ But in the club, there’s no difference,” she said.
The Gentlemen’s Club has about 20 members; Ladies With Class has 89 members, according to organizers. Over the decade, the boys’ club has had about 200 members and the girls’ club has had about 400 members, McIntyre and Swann said.
Members are required to perform volunteer service work, such as cleaning up the school and supporting the city’s food pantry, organizers said.
The organizations try to set an example of how a gentleman or a lady should act and dress. On Tuesdays, members must wear professional attire — a nice shirt or a shirt and tie with khaki pants for males and a blouse with slacks or a nice skirt for females.
Their attire often stands out, members said.
“It’s not about getting attention, but people notice and know what we’re about,” said Matthew Bieler, a member of the Gentlemen’s Club.
Dressing up for school was a bit of a change for Ocampos-
“I had never worn suits and ties before in my life, except to fancy events like weddings,” said Ocampos-Barry, who wants to get a doctorate in physics after graduating. “I was embarrassed. I thought people would make fun of me for dressing up. Now I see that people respect those who are old enough to dress up.”
For the ladies, a proper dress code is the first thing the group covers with new inductees, said Skylar Coleman, co-president of Ladies With Class.
“That’s a big issue right now, dress code,” the 17-year-old said. It’s a “good bridge to show young ladies what’s more proper to wear when you’re being professional.”
Having to dress up on Tuesdays will soon be in the past for Coleman, who is on track to graduate this year from the school.
“I’m excited for graduation, but I’m not as excited to leave the organization behind because it’s close to my heart now,” she said.