The students at Douglass School in Leesburg know they have a reputation. In fact, some of them had the same stereotype in their own heads before they attended the school.
“I thought I was going to get beat up,” said senior Jae Sumner. “I thought there were going to be fights breaking out in the hallways.”
Sumner enrolled in Douglass as an underclassman from Loudoun County High School after medical issues caused her to have memory issues and problems in school. Though she joined the school tentatively, she quickly fell in love with the atmosphere, so much that she stayed.
“It's a family here,” Sumner said. “Once you're here, you're in the family.”
The students at Douglass want others to know how much the school has helped them, so they set out to show them by entering the Step Up Loudoun contest.
Step Up Loudoun is a competition open to middle and high school students. Participants must identify a problem facing youth in Loudoun and propose a solution through video, a discussion forum, a meeting or various other methods. In March, contestants pitch their entry to judges.
Sharon Bean spearheaded the contest effort. Bean handpicked students who had expressed concern about the school's reputation in the past. The group met during the lunch hour and decided to host an open house at Douglass to help correct some of the misconceptions the community had about Douglass.
On Feb. 7, area middle and high school principals and guidance counselors, as well as prospective parents, gathered at Douglass for food, speakers, displays and student-guided tours.
The students emphasized that a drug intervention program is completely separate from Douglass's function as an alternative school. The school serves 160 students and kids attend for a variety of reasons, including medical hardships, academic problems or simply not “fitting in.”
Bayan Atari, a senior whose base school is Tuscarora, addressed the crowd prior to their tours. Atari spoke about how she was previously an AP student before a hospital stay plummeted her grades. She became depressed and avoided school altogether. Though she was hesitant to attend Douglass, she relented in an effort to save her school year. Midway through the program, Atari had a revelation.
“Suddenly, I realized I'm not miserable anymore,” Atari said. “I'm content. I didn't think that would happen anytime soon.”
While the students at Douglass hope to win the $1,000 grand prize for the Step Up Loudoun contest, ultimately, they have one major goal in mind.
“We want people to know our reputation isn't true,” sophomore Hayley Caroline said. “We don't ever want this school to get cut.”