Gray Matters (November 2019)
Growth & Innovation
In 1980, eleven years after Capitol Hill Day School’s inaugural year, the School jumped on an unexpected opportunity. With the District looking for revenue, the School leased the Dent building, a dilapidated former DC public school. Not only were we able to consolidate our programs that were housed in two churches, the new facility gave Capitol Hill Day School an opportunity to grow. Our early childhood/elementary school now had the space for a middle school program.
Fast forward to 2018 when, again, Capitol Hill Day School found itself presented with a timely opportunity for growth. By now, the Farren’s Stable story is well-documented. In a January 2018 letter to the CHDS community, I wrote the following:
In tandem with the efforts around facility and through ongoing reflection, a group of faculty and staff is developing a plan to use existing strengths to make the Capitol Hill Day School middle school program even more reflective of our deep and long-standing commitment to teaching and learning. We are thrilled to marry access to a new facility with our vision for middle school education.
I hope you agree that our facility and program planning continues to fulfill Capitol Hill Day School’s commitment to teaching and learning.
Earlier this week, Danielle Bowen, Tom Sellevaag, and I engaged a group of parents at my October Java with Jason to discuss how the physical and structural changes to our Upper Grades program are taking shape. We also talked about Capitol Hill Day School’s strong commitment to a PK-8th Grade learning environment and the research-based strengths of this model. Here are key takeaways from our conversation.
Flexible and Innovative Teaching Spaces
The Farren’s Stable space is designed to not just support our practice, but to push it forward. Having flexible teaching spaces is critical, allowing teachers to continuously configure the learning environment in ways that best support the learning goals and student needs. At Farren’s, this means both furniture that is mobile and a floor plan intentionally designed with spaces of varying shape and size.
Upper Grade Community
One of our priorities is providing a chance for all Upper Grade students to experience a sense of community and belonging. The Upper Grades are divided into two grade-based cohorts--5th/6th and 7th/8th. Each cohort has four teachers who, within broad parameters, share responsibility for curriculum and schedule. Each cohort has a distinct feel based on the developmental levels of students.
While still maintaining the advantages of a small school environment, the cohort structure allows us to expand each student’s social circles, helping individuals make connections outside of their grade-level class. The Farren’s Stable space also gives us the opportunity to fulfill the important Upper Grade goal of weekly Community Time, sessions in which all 5th-8th Graders come together.
Support for PK-8th Model
Since the School’s founding in 1968, decisions about program and facilities are grounded in our unshakeable commitment to providing an Early Childhood through 8th Grade education that sparks joy in learning and encourages curiosity, exploration, critical thinking, creativity, and play. Our EC-8th Grade model is no mere whim, but a foundational belief supported by research and experience.
“If I could design psychologically safe schools, every elementary school in the United States would go from kindergarten through grade eight and would be no larger than four hundred children.”
Michael Thompson, PhD, psychologist and best selling author
“Schwartz said she hopes education policy makers consider making schools K through eighth grade — in other words, cutting out middle school… ‘We find that kids in K through eights on average do better in eighth grade than kids that go to a K through 5,’ said Schwartz, adding the research backs it up: The longer grade spans — the K through eight schools — provide a better learning environment and as a result students do better emotionally and academically.
Marika Suval, Is Middle School Helping or Harming Kids?
“In the K-8 schools, those tweens and young teens were the "top dogs" — the oldest, the most comfortable and familiar with the school. But, in traditional middle schools and 6-12 schools, sixth-graders were the ‘bottom dogs’... The researchers found that when students were not the ‘bottom dogs,’ they reported feeling safer, less bullying, less fighting and a greater sense of belonging.”
Anya Kamenetz, Sixth Grade Is Tough; It Helps To Be 'Top Dog'