Wednesday, February 25, 2009

walking to school, walking into the real world

The old Blair High School on Wayne Avenue put students within walking distance of Metro and Downtown Silver Spring. Photo courtesy of smata2. BELOW: Blair's current campus in Four Corners.

It's not quite Hilton Hotels, but the International Baccalaureate Organization is looking to relocate its United States office to Montgomery County, citing the large number of local schools offering their intensive college-prep curriculum. Their main criteria for a site is a) one that's near Metro and b) one that's near a high school offering their program, which has limited their search to the west leg of the Red Line. It's an interesting way to locate a business, assuming their workers have teenagers and will try to settle nearby, but tough to accomplish even in MoCo.

While a number of county high schools offer IB, only a few are Metro-accessible, notably Richard Montgomery in Rockville and Bethesda-Chevy Chase. On the east side, the closest school to a Metro station is the vaunted Montgomery Blair, just two miles away from both the Forest Glen and Silver Spring stations - but you'll only find IB classes at Springbrook High, which is five miles away from Glenmont.

Of any level of school in MoCo, high schools are the ones that best belong in the "center of town," if you will, because its students stand to gain the most from being within easy walking distance to stores, transportation and hangouts. Kind of disappointing. Having worked in Downtown Rockville with students from Richard Montgomery, I can attest to what a difference pedestrian and Metro accessibility can make for kids who can't drive, in terms of getting to jobs, meeting friends, and becoming a visible, active part of the community rather than being sequestered away in a classroom or basement.

The lives my co-workers at RM led were a far cry from my own high school experience at Blake, where my entire walking-to-stuff career consisted of a trip to the Olney 9 sophomore year with a few friends. (This was before Downtown Silver Spring opened, and at the time, the idea of walking to the movies seemed revolutionary.)

And while Blair's relocation to Four Corners ten years ago has given students a bigger campus and more room for playing fields, it's hampered their independence, with a school hemmed in by two state highways and the Beltway. Those who have to walk or use transit do so at their own peril. The old Blair High School (currently Sligo Creek Elementary and Silver Spring International Middle) on Wayne Avenue, just outside of Downtown Silver Spring, was probably a better place for young adults to gain their independence, simply because they could easily get around on their own.

International Baccalaureate's move to MoCo means that our public schools will receive even more outside attention for their academic excellence. But their criteria for selecting a site will hopefully encourage some thought about how students can learn about the world outside of school.


Mortis Olaf said...

Great minds think alike. I made this crazy-ass plan not too long ago concerning how I'd redevelop Silver Spring. The spot where the Ellsworth condos may never go up was chosen to be the site of a new school.,-77.028322&spn=0.030753,0.055275&t=h&z=14

I think it could work.

Thomas Hardman said...

MoCo could benefit massively by an expanded IB program and I'm surprised that it didn't have comparable programs long before IB became available.

The Greater Washington DC Metropolitan Area is awash with talent and the IB program electing to headquarter here reflects this.