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LIFE AT THE SEED SCHOOL OF WASHINGTON, D.C.

Julia Benton


LIFE AT THE SEED SCHOOL OF WASHINGTON, D.C.


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few miles from the White House in southeast Washington sit some of the worst public schools in America. Only one in three students in the neighborhood finish high school; of those who do go on to college, just 5% graduate. Founded in 1998, the SEED School of Washington, DC is the nation’s first urban public boarding school. It’s a charter school that is getting national attention — 96% of SEED graduates go on to college. It all starts on SEED’s campus, a four-acre safe zone where 330 sixth through twelfth graders can focus on school, free from distractions at home. The days start early at 6 a.m.; classes run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Then there’s study hall, extracurriculars and tutoring, with the day ending at 10 p.m. The days are rigorous and demanding and it takes students with intense drive and determination to finish all seven years. This body of work follows Mr. Bill Stevens’ U.S. History class as the six students make their way through junior year.

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Chandler Connelly, 16 It’s a tight schedule here. We wake up, go to breakfast, we have to be at breakfast by a certain time, then you have to be at class at a certain time, you have to be in bed at a certain time. Everything is scheduled for you basically. You don’t really make your own time, the school manages your time for you. At first, I wasn’t used to this kind of environment. It was weird, I guess it’s still weird, but as the years progressed I got more comfortable. SEED gives you a lot of opportunities and I’m just grateful for being here.

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Daa’jah Wallace, 17 SEED definitely teaches you a lesson socially. It teaches you not to let everything overpower you; it teaches you to chill out; it teaches you how to mellow. We all start SEED in 6th grade. I think we started out with 30 boys and 30 girls. Some of the boys left, but the girls are staying. Some people’s parents took them out because they didn’t like them being away, some got kicked out, some got held back. We don’t get any new students after 6th grade so we get really used to each other and really comfortable. You can tell when people are getting bored, if we’re at the end of a long week, that’s when people start causing drama. It’s not like they don’t like each other, it’s just cause they don’t have anything else to do.

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Bobbie Smith, 16 Ms. Stacks, SEED’s principal, took me under her wing when I was in 8th grade. She had read my personal narrative, a writing assignment for class, and understood how close I was to my family. It was really hard for me being away from my grandma and brothers while at SEED. I meet with Ms. Stacks every other week and because I like reading a lot, we joined a book club together too. I feel like I can talk to her about anything and I can really depend on her.

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Roshae Ball, 16 The first month or so, I really struggled. I came to SEED in 7th grade and it was hard. The days are all planned out, someone was always telling me what to do and when to do it. I didn’t like being away from my family, I felt like I wasn’t ready for the college life. But after a little while, things started to get better. Now I’m definitely starting to appreciate the things that have been given to me. We get so many opportunities here, the exposure and education is really, really good. Other people don’t have what I have and I know that I’m going to be prepared for college.

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Imani Graham, 16 I’m in a hard math class this year and it was really difficult for me to make the decision to stick with cheerleading. But I decided to do it, basically I got my head in the game. I mean, you want to have an activity to show that you did something in school for colleges. But it’s hard like ‘Oh, you have a test on Thursday, but there’s a game on Wednesday.’ You’ve got to be able to switch back and forth from both. You’ve got to get your priorities straight. A lot of girls dropped out of cheerleading because sometimes it’s too much to handle with classes.

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Malik Jackson, 17 I’m looking into business, computer technology, maybe a minor in history because I love history. I don’t want to stay in DC after I graduate. I want to go to Georgia, North Carolina, Florida…I’m ready to get away, ready to go somewhere new. Education is essential to your future and it’s a way out. You need to get an education, even though some people don’t understand that. My mom is a single parent and she brought me and my sister up by herself. My mom has always pushed me to be the best that I can be, she wants me to do better than she did. This is my sister’s senior year at George Mason. She’s already doing well and I want to follow in her footsteps. Not just for my family, but for myself as well.

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Cover The SEED School’s boys and girls dorms surround the main building.

10 SEED runs on a block schedule. Classes alternate days and are held twice a week for 1 1/2 hours at a time.

2 Junior Cierra Jackson perches on her twin sister’s dorm room bed as she chats with friends about the school day.

12 Students live on campus Sunday through Friday. Dorm life centers around “houses” named for local universities.

4 SEED was founded in 1997 by Eric Adler and Rajiv Vinnakota on the belief that inner city students could benefit from a public, boarding program.

14 The “University of Maryland” floor houses 15 junior and senior boys. Their daytime Resident Advisor, Andrew McCamley, is on call in the dorm from 6 AM until 6 PM every weekday.

6 US History teacher, Mr. Bill Stevens, teaches a lesson on reading and identifying documents from the 18th century. 7 Cordell Jones takes a break during a unit test. Cordell, caught fighting with a classmate on campus the day before Winter Break, was expelled.

16 Junior Tyrell Walker has a room to himself, though he wishes he had a roommate to keep him company. Tyrell wants to study music theory in college. 18 Da’ajah Wallace spent her past summer studying in Greece with a group of classmates. All travel expenses are paid by SEED.

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20 Middle school and high school students eat their meals in shifts in the small cafeteria. The menu changes daily and offers a variety of food - sometimes grown in the school’s garden.

30 Despite SEED’s small size, it competes in the Maryland Independent School League and finished the 2013 basketball season with a 2-17 record. 32 After classes and study sessions let out for the day, students are alloted a certain amount of free time.

23 Classrooms in the small school are oftentimes shared by a few teachers who alternate class schedules.

34 Roommates Imani Graham and Chandler Connelly test out different lipstick shades before heading to the cafeteria for dinner.

24 Da’ajah Wallace and Chandler Connelly fill out a venn diagram comparing and contrasting Andrew Jackson and John Adams.

37 Every Friday afternoon students pack their bags and go home for the weekend.

27 Roshae Ball hopes to become a zoologist and move to Georgia, where her family is originally from.

38 Teachers stay on campus late into the night to host study groups and help struggling students.

28; Malik Jackson finishes packing his suitcase to go home for the weekend after a late basketball practice on Friday afternoon.

44 Mr. Steven’s wonderful class of smart, talented students. Thank you all! 41


LIFE AT THE SEED SCHOOL OF WASHINGTON, D.C. Julia Benton first edition Julia Benton is a photojournalist based in Washington, D.C. www.juliabenton.com Images and concept Š Julia Benton, 2013


Profile for julia benton

Life at the SEED School of Washington, D.C.  

Founded in 1998, the SEED School of Washington, DC is the nation’s first urban public boarding school. This body of work follows Mr. Bill St...

Life at the SEED School of Washington, D.C.  

Founded in 1998, the SEED School of Washington, DC is the nation’s first urban public boarding school. This body of work follows Mr. Bill St...

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