The students' destinations were the same, but how they got there was strikingly different.

An impressive metal sign at the front entrance read "Hopkins High School" and welcomed students who were dropped off by their parents or driving their own cars. The other entrance, used by students who rode the school bus, was a plain bank of doors with a view of electrical transformers, and sparse patches of grass and pavement.

Now, the second entrance is as aesthetically pleasing as the main entrance thanks to $25,000 in landscaping and construction work completed last month -- and the concern of a group of teachers and a principal in his second year at the school.

School officials say it's a sign of the times -- and certainly not a case of splurging during a time of tightening school budgets -- for a high school located in a second-ring suburban district that's seen increases in its percentage of low-income and minority students in recent years.

"I don't want to over-generalize because we have a lot of white students who ride the bus, but typically you saw a sea of white students coming in the front door and a much more diverse group coming in the side entrance," said Hopkins teacher Patrick Duffy. "It contributed to the way students congregated."

A facelift

Patrick Poquette, Hopkins building supervisor, said the improvements made to the bus entrance include carving the name of the school into the building, removing some pavement and replacing it with grass, and planting shrubs and flowers that bloom in the spring and fall. He said the hallway near the bus entrance soon will have flags representing students' various countries of origin.

"The idea was to have a nice, welcoming look for the students," he said. "It's a low-maintenance area. We don't have to plant every year."

Hopkins sophomore Anthony L. Johnson, 15, said the new entrance looks more inviting than the old one. Johnson said some students who rode the bus noticed the differences in the two entrances, but no one said anything about it.

"It was bad," Johnson said of the old entrance. "The part of the school where the kids with cars came in was nice."

The change "adds onto the flavor of the school," said senior Gary Hartke, 17. "It's a positive thing," said another senior, Charity Pay, 17. "It makes you feel like you don't need money to go to school."

The reasons

Principal Willie Jett said concerns about the door predate his time at the school and originated from the school's Equity Team. Jett, whose career includes time at North High School in Minneapolis, said he supported the team's suggestions. He said the money for the improvements came from the district's maintenance budget, which is separate from classroom dollars.

"This [door] is the beginning of kids' day," Jett said. The change shows that the students are valued. "It's something that kids will have 10 years from now. It's a legacy."

Hopkins' Equity Team is made up of about a dozen teachers who meet regularly with administrators to discuss the school's academic and social climate. Duffy leads the team.

The team's work has included launching programs that encourage more low-income and minority students to take advanced courses and working with Metro Transit to put a bus shelter on Cedar Lake Road for students who use public transportation.

"It's simple things," said team member Nancy Marcy, Hopkins' health education coordinator, who has taught at Hopkins High for more than 15 years.

Marcy said transportation, or a lack of it, is one of the most visible forms of inequity that can affect students' education.

"To me this feels like an important gesture on the school district's part to acknowledge the importance of all of our students," Marcy said.

Hopkins' Equity Team discussed having buses drop students off at the front door but realized it would disrupt traffic patterns and pose hardships for Hopkins North Junior High students, who are dropped off in the same area as the high school students.

So the team pushed for improvements to the bus entrance.

"Is it necessary? Some would say no. But why not if it's going to make students feel more welcome?" Duffy said.

Patrice Relerford • 612-673-4395