Overcrowding woes forced Bowie High School to begin housing the freshman class in a shuttered school down the street in 2005, a plan they say has evolved into a success story regarding the transition of students into high school.
“We could have easily chosen to move the 12th-graders or a different group,” said Bowie High Principal Drewana Bey. “As time went on, we really looked at it outside of an overcrowding solution and said ‘Let’s use this as a small learning environment for our ninth-graders.’”
Previously, the annex building at Belair Drive was used to house Bladensburg High School while its new building was being constructed.
Over the last two years, Bowie High has reported the lowest rates of repeat ninth-graders in Prince George’s, Bey said.
Last year, 87.3 percent of Bowie High’s freshmen class advanced, according to Maryland Department of Education data. Countywide 73.3 percent of freshmen were promoted.
“They’re not competing with the upperclassmen, not trying to prove themselves to anyone, and we believe that helps them focus a little bit more,” Bew said.
John Quinn, a senior at Bowie High, said he used to be shy, but by the end of his freshman year at the school he successfully ran for president of the student government association.
“[Being at the annex] kind of built up my confidence to be able to go and run for president. Being only with my ninth-grade peers, you just kind of have a sense that it’s us, that I’m around people who are at the same level as me,” Quinn, 17, said. “If you’re around seniors and juniors, you think, ‘They’re much bigger than me. They’re superior because they’re upperclassmen.’”
Mary Nusser of Bowie, a volunteer at the school for 20 years, said within months of the annex’s opening, she saw the positive effects. The number of fights between students dropped as well as the number of freshmen suspensions, she said.
“Freshmen get a little bit crazy with their new independence,” Nusser said. “By segregating them, you stand a better chance at helping with their transition from a school that treats them like babies into a setting that is approaching adulthood.”
The year the annex was introduced, the main school building housed 2,769 students, with enrollment peaking at 3,007 in 2010, according to data provided by the Maryland Department of Education.
Enrollment needs to drop from its current 2,600 students to 1,900 to fall within the main building’s capacity, said Johndel Jones-Brown, director of pupil accounting and school boundaries for Prince George’s public schools. But with 623 freshmen at the annex, about 2,000 students remain on the main campus and overcrowding has been alleviated.
He said even if enrollment were to drop drastically, which he said isn’t expected, the annex will likely become a permanent part of Bowie High.
“We’ve projected for the foreseeable next 10-plus years capacity will require continued use of the facility,” he said.
School board member Verjeana M. Jacobs (Dist. 5), whose district includes Bowie High, said she hopes the annex’s success will encourage officials to move away from looking at just numbers when making decisions about schools.
“While we’re so busy looking at capacity, we should concentrate on how to take buildings that are not at capacity and create programs and services,” Jacobs said, adding she’s encouraged officials to permanently keep the annex a part of Bowie High.