But the Allstons landed on Bard High School Early College, a new campus in Southeast that promotes a rigorous liberal-arts curriculum and lets students graduate with a high school diploma and a two-year associate degree.
So that’s where she was Monday for the first day of school. And like Taylor, tens of thousands of other D.C. students in the traditional and charter systems converged on their campuses to kick off the 2019-2020 academic year, with preschool set to begin Thursday.
For Taylor, the start of high school means a daily commute that often includes two Metro lines and a bus ride east across the city to the Benning Ridge neighborhood in Southeast.
“I believe you have to make sacrifices to benefit from the school system,” said Tunesia Allston, Taylor’s mom. “I’m not really pro-charter or pro-D.C. Public Schools. I just want the school that will give them the best opportunities.”
When school leaders announced a partnership to open a campus in Southeast — a swath of the city east of the Anacostia River with a high concentration of poverty — they said they wanted to attract students from the surrounding neighborhoods. Those students often feel they must commute across the river for a better education.
The school is in a temporary location — the long-shuttered Davis Elementary School — for this academic year, but its permanent location is expected to remain east of the Anacostia.
Bard High School Early College — which is considered an accredited branch of Bard College, a liberal-arts college in New York — has six similar campuses elsewhere in the nation, including in Baltimore. The D.C. campus is part of the city’s traditional public school system and is receiving start-up funding from the D.C. Public Education Fund, which raises private money to support the school system.
It opened Monday in the District with more than 150 ninth-graders and a small 11th-grade class, which will complete the two-year associate degree program.
More than 600 eighth-graders applied for the inaugural class, submitting essays and interviewing with Bard staffers. Test scores and grades were not considered. The traditional public school system opened a similar early-college academy — which is not in partnership with Bard — at Coolidge High School in Northwest Washington.
About 70 percent of Bard students live in Wards 7 and 8, which are east of the Anacostia River.
Before the school opened, more than 40 percent of its Ward 7 and 8 students had attended a middle school on the other side of the river, according to data provided by Bard. That means the students are opting to stay closer to their homes instead of traveling across the river.
“You can finish high school and have two years of credit at a school like Bard,” Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) told students Monday. “That’s tremendous — and it puts you on a pathway to be ready for the work world even sooner.”
Bowser and Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee met with students Monday and asked why they decided on Bard. Most of the students said they sought an opportunity to earn an associate degree free of charge.
The decision by the Allstons provides a glimpse into the factors families consider when choosing a high school. Taylor is one of the nearly 60 percent of teenagers who do not attend high school in their home ward, according to city data from 2017.
While traveling from Shaw to Southeast is a lengthy and unusual commute in the District, Tunesia Allston said location was not a factor in selecting a high school. Last year, Allston, a government worker, had three children at three different charter schools and is accustomed to juggling her children’s varying routines.
Her husband, a telecom technician, has a car and a more flexible schedule, so can often drive Taylor if it’s too cold or rainy to take public transit. They considered their assigned neighborhood high school, Cardozo Education Campus, but wanted a smaller environment for their daughter.
Taylor, an aspiring journalist, said she settled on Bard when she met with a school employee who asked her thought-provoking questions about politics and social issues.
“They listen to our voice,” she said of the Bard faculty.
She attended Howard University Middle School of Mathematics & Science, a charter, and has never relied on school to make friends in her neighborhood.
But Taylor and her mother agreed that one of Bard’s biggest lures is the promise of an associate degree if Taylor completes her courses. Taylor’s sister is a junior at Hampton University and is already worried about mounting student loans.
“I have two younger siblings who also want to go to college,” Taylor said, “so we have to save as much money as possible.”
By Monday, Taylor felt confident in her decision. She had completed a two-week summer prep program at the school, where she was exposed to introductory philosophy concepts. She snapped classic first-day-of-school photos of classmates and shared inside jokes and jabs with some of the 10 Bard students who also attended middle school with her.
She was impressed with her teachers, many of whom have doctorate degrees and previous lives as professors at esteemed universities.
And she spent Monday morning in a writing seminar, with the desks arranged in a circle, answering questions about her hopes for the week and the future.
Her hope for the week: to attend a football game at Roosevelt High to catch up with friends from middle school.
And for the future: to be successful and purchase her parents a house.
When asked if she thought this was the right school for her, she responded with her wide, dimpled smile.
“I think I’m going to like this,” Taylor said..