Wilson deans provide a glimpse of the past


Graphic by Sarah Tilghman

Sophie Jugeli-Giroux

From carrying out hall sweeps to enforcing discipline, Wilson’s deans often seem like intimidating superiors. But at one point, some were Wilson students themselves. As their roles have changed from students to staff members, the school has transformed with them. Twelfth grade dean and football coach Mark Martin, 11th grade dean Wallace Haith, and 10th grade dean Henry Martinez each attended Wilson during a different era and reflected on their time as teens and the evolution of the school.  

Martin graduated in 1984, and has fond memories of Wilson. To him, one of the most noticeable changes was the structure of the school. “A lot of people don’t know that those three green doors up there on the second floor, that was the main office, the gym was the auditorium. Matter [of] fact where the offices are that’s where the cafeteria was, and the atrium used to be open, they used to have two basketball courts down there.” 

In terms of diversity, Martin said that “Wilson has always been a diverse school,” although, in his time, the population included more Black students than any other race. Martin lived in a primarily Black neighborhood, but at Wilson he opened up his friend group to all races. 

Martin was an athlete—he played football and ran track—which he believed set him on the right path, discouraging him from using drugs and alcohol and motivating him academically. 

During Martin’s time at Wilson, school spirit was high. Football games started at 3:30 p.m. “We probably had about 1,200 kids back then,” Martin said. “Just imagine everybody going to the game and supporting you.”

Martin remembers homecoming being similar to today, but his class dance was in a hotel and there was a homecoming parade on Saturday where the queen and king rode in a convertible. “[The dance was] crazy, everybody had a good time.”

 When it came to style within the school  “kids wore suits it was very professional,” Martin said.

Martin added that marijuana has always been popular among students, but today’s consequences for getting caught are less severe. “It’s better for [students] to be in school; some kids want to go home,” he explained when referring to in and out of school suspension.

Violence in Wilson wasn’t high. “There was probably one security officer in the halls,” Martin said. The metal detectors that are in Wilson today were implemented after an incident occurred in Ballou High School were a student brought a gun to school. 

Once crack was introduced in the late 80s, after Martin graduated, incarceration rates went through the roof. Arrests in the city from the crack epidemic soured the relationship between students and law enforcement. “You would see people you know to be clean-cut hooked on crack,” Martin said. That is when the city and school system changed for the worse.

Over a decade later, Haith graduated from Wilson in 1999, at a time when DC was named the murder capital of the U.S. Haith grew up in Southeast DC, and his neighborhood school was Ballou High School. “Going to Wilson saved my life. I was told that by the time I’m 18, I’m either gonna end up dead or in jail,” he said. 

Haith’s experience at Wilson was eye-opening, giving him a new perspective on life by exposing him to people he’s never encountered before. Wilson was the first school he went to that had Hispanic and Latino students. The diversity amazed Haith. “If you wanted to meet somebody from Africa… Russia, you name it, Wilson had it,” Haith added. During his era the clothing brand Eddie Bauer was a must. 

Lastly, Martinez graduated from Wilson in 2011, having attended during the renovation. He transferred to Wilson during his sophomore year and stayed in the old building up until his junior year, with the renovation beginning when he was a senior. Martinez said that Wilson “does look different, and it is actively changing, but change isn’t always a bad thing.” 

In high school, Martinez played football, baseball, and basketball. Comparing current athletes to those of his time, he emphasizes the difference in discipline. He believes that the boundaries between coach and player have been blurred because of the privilege students now possess. Athletes at Wilson during his time had more respect toward each other and their coaches, whereas now there is unhealthy competition between players and players approach coaches differently about team issues. 

Marijuana was also popular during Martinez’s time in high school, but was viewed in a different light than it is now. Since decriminalization, marijuana has become more accessible to students and is becoming more accepted, a big difference from when it used to be looked down upon. 

Style-wise, Northface ran his generation.