Decatur’s major influx of students

Stephen Wade, Staff Writer

Stephen Decatur High School is experiencing its biggest-ever student population, with 1,435 students enrolled – and that number is still going up.

The increase in students is nothing new. Decatur’s population has been steadily increasing since 1993, when the school housed only 895 students.

But why the drastic increase of students now?

One main reason is that the school is getting more students is because of the area. The Eastern Shore is quite the place to live, with a little bit of everything. The beach and surf in Ocean City and Assateague Island are only a few miles away from the woodlands and waterways that are great for hunting and fishing. There are also many job opportunities in the area with several restaurants and small, locally-owned businesses.

Along with that, Berlin is considered the sixth-safest town in Maryland with a violent crime rate of 0.62 percent. Ocean Pines is ranked as the safest place to live in all of Maryland, according to the independent review website SafeWise.

Not to mention the several youth sports programs that the area has to offer and the big baseball, football, soccer, wrestling, and lacrosse communities. In addition to that, Decatur’s wrestling team has had great triumph including back-to-back state championships these past two years; a feat that no other Bayside Conference school has accomplished. Decatur’s football team has also found recent success this year with their historic season and a deep playoff run for the first time in years.

The success of both of these teams could be a huge attraction for athletes in surrounding areas if their current school does not have a decent team in their sport. But wrestling and football are not the only sports Decatur competes in at the state level, as sports in general are improving as more and more students are getting involved.

Another big reason as to why Decatur is receiving new students is because of the top-notch education. Worcester County as a whole is known for its outstanding education system, including everyone from the superintendents to the teachers. Decatur is the No. 46 high school in Maryland out of 263 while receiving an overall score of 87.9/100, according to U.S. News.

Decatur is also ranked as the No. 1 high school in the Salisbury Metro Area which includes Wicomico, Worcester, Somerset and Sussex Counties, making it the best high school in the area. Worcester County as a whole also takes pride in providing quality education for students.

Worcester County Public Schools’ mission is, “to cultivate a safe, student-centered, educational environment in which our diverse community of learners develops positive relationships and is prepared for an ever-changing world,” according to Worcester County Public Schools.

Stephen Decatur is also a PBIS school, which stand for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. PBIS promotes school safety and good behavior and focuses on prevention, rather than punishment. Decatur was also voted by the community as Coastal Style Magazine’s 2021 Best School, which is yet another reason why families with students would want to move here to Worcester County.

One of the several incoming new students is sophomore Tiara McDonald, who moved here from Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland.

“I came here a lot though my whole life, but I didn’t really think people lived here. I thought this was a beach town only,” McDonald said.

“Staying here is pretty chill,” she added. “It’s a lot different from where I’m from because I was from a city so there’s a lot of people and a lot of things going on. This is sort of low key so I like it. … I think the teachers and the staff are really nice and supportive and the people are nice too so it made the transition pretty easy.”

Freshman Keonté Tynes is one of 403 students in the freshman class, which is the biggest freshman class Decatur has ever seen.

“[Decatur] is my favorite school I’ve been to. It’s all different, I get to see new people. Each class I go to is a different class and everybody is cool so I talk to them and ask them stuff. I don’t feel like I’m getting treated wrong, I feel like I’m doing good,” Tynes said.

Another student that is new to both the school and the area is junior Ty Barnes. Barnes moved from Baltimore County.

“It’s better than where I was,” he said. “It’s a lot safer because of the community. There’s a lot of violent crime where I came from, and none here.”

Assistant Principal Jennifer Garton said new students are enrolling every day since the first day of the school year. She explained that one of the biggest impacts of the influx of students has been the schedule. Some students had to repeat courses from last year, so class sizes are already strained.

“With the influx of students, it means we need to find creative ways to make sure they get the credits they need,” she said. “Covid has impacted us because the virtual instruction wasn’t the best possible instruction a student can be offered, especially when you are taking such challenging courses that lead up to AP courses.

“It’s great to see new faces and let students come here and enjoy life at Decatur,” Garton added. “We think it’s pretty great. ”

Garton also emphasized that the low crime rates and the small town feel of the area could be a huge draw for people. “This is a low crime area. I think that is a draw for people since it’s safe,” Garton said. “It still has that small town feel  and I think people come here for that feel and the fact that it’s low crime, it’s safe, and it’s beautiful.”