At Capital City, building community and student character is an intentional process. As you walk around the high school, for instance, the campus’ community values (compassion, courage, contribution, integrity, and self-discipline) are blazoned above students’ lockers in large letters, reminding the entire community of the school’s focus on character and high achievement.
Each campus, lower, middle, and high school, has its own set of shared Community Values that staff and students developed. The first six weeks of the school year involve a large focus on our community values. We focus on helping students understand and live the community values as students are getting to know one another and expectations are being established. This work continues throughout the school year, but is an important focus of the first weeks of school.
Our new High School Coordinator of School Culture, Roy Vereen, sees his role as promoter of the community values, helping students “make connections between our community values and real-life situations.” Vereen has created biweekly themes and activities to honor the HS community values, which will be carried out through advisories, grade-level community meetings, and all-school meetings. “Our community values,” said Vereen, “represent strong character skills that will help our students be successful in high school, college, and beyond.”
Our focus on community helps 9th graders make a smooth transition to high school. Through our four-week 9th grade summer orientation, students engage in activities and discussion on the importance of these values. The goal is for students to enter the first day of high school already feeling connected to their high school community (and to have a full understanding of what our expectations are for them). Ninth graders, Vereen noted, have already demonstrated one of the community values, “Courage,” as they have made this transition to high school.
In the lower school, developing community values has been truly a community effort. Beginning in 2012-2013, then-Instructional Coach Katie Spellacy and Early Childhood Director Thora Balk held small group discussions with two students from each grade. They discussed what students thought was special about Capital City, and following these discussions, Spellacy and Balk asked parents, staff, and students, “How should people at Capital City be?”
With community input, Spellacy and Balk identified 11 common values. Students wrote “kid-friendly” definitions to help explain these 11 values. Students voted to narrow down the list the top five community values. Spellacy worked with teachers to “roll out” these values (kindness, courage, perseverance, responsibility, and creativity) during the 2013-2014 school year.
The values were unveiled one week at a time, featured at Wednesday All-School Meetings , and then every class read a book that exemplified that value. Spellacy formed a Community Council in which students from each grade, selected by their peers anonymously, could work toward fostering the community values. By keeping the selection process anonymous, “It allowed students who might not have otherwise been selected,” said Spellacy, “to gain confidence in their skills and leadership abilities.”
The Community Council met to plan activities around the values, including a variety show held in the spring. The Council discussed how these activities required students to demonstrate the values, for example, kindness as an audience member and courage by participating. Students became “Community Values Ambassadors,” sharing these discussions with their classes.
Our school-wide focus on community values has allowed staff to look at what it means for them. “For me,” said Spellacy, “It’s a whole community effort and everybody has to reflect and think on these values.” The high school value of “contribution” Vereen emphasized, is very important for students and staff alike. “There is nothing better than helping someone less fortunate than you,” he said. From PreK3 to 12th grade, students are part of a community that is reflective and earnest in helping students achieve academically, socially, and emotionally.
Capital City is very excited about its new partnership with Sports for Sharing for the 2014-2015 school year. Thanks to a grant from the Inter-American Development Bank, Sports for Sharing (S4S) will be working with our 1st-4th graders during Spanish and PE classes.
Through this partnership, “Students will be able to think in a higher level to discuss global issues such as poverty, hunger, illnesses, healthy living style, and environmental sustainability,” said Fabiola Rosenberger, Lower School Spanish teacher.
S4S curriculum includes eight units that use games aligned with the Millennium Development Goals, a UN Member State initiative to improve health and education outcomes for the world’s poor by 2015, to foster collaboration and teamwork. The program will help students “make connections between global citizenship and local action,” says Dana Mekler, U.S. Country Manager for Sports for Sharing.
“The S4S program supports many aspects of our program and our whole child approach to education,” noted Lower School Principal Amy Wendel. “The activities support our focus on fitness and wellness, positive social interaction, and our focus on cultural diversity.”
The hands-on aspect of the program aligns well with our Expeditionary Learning model, allowing students to take ownership of their learning. One lesson, for instance, teaches kids about environmental sustainability through a game called, “Don’t Spoil the Water.” Students pass a ball to represent the transportation of water between water-scarce communities. The game becomes progressively more challenging and students must work harder as a team to ensure water reaches its destination.
S4S was founded in Mexico City in 2007 and expanded to the U.S. in 2013. This year, for the first time, S4S will connect its schools in Mexico City with partner schools in the U.S. “Students (at Capital City) will be able to share their experiences and solutions about the activities they work on with their sister school in Mexico City,” noted Mekler. As S4S will be taught in Spanish, it will be fully incorporated into students’ Spanish classes. They will be able to practice their Spanish-language skills as well with their partner school in Mexico City.
The goal of S4S at Capital City is “to foster healthier life habits,” said Mekler, “and reduce and prevent bullying and violent behavior of students inside and outside the classroom.” The program also seeks to prepare teachers to teach differently and to integrate sports and games into everyday lessons.
Capital City staff is also excited to implement S4S in the classroom. Students will “come up with solutions that can have an impact on themselves and on their community,” said Rosenberger.
To prepare staff for program implementation, S4S led a one-day training that exposed teachers to the various program activities and identified strategies to implement these activities in the classroom.
To enrich the games, Rosenberger plans to include experts on the activity topics, such as water and hunger issues. Anyone who is interested in sharing his/her knowledge on such issues is encouraged to contact Ms. Rosenberger at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to set up a time to visit.
Learning is a life-long process, and in the education field, we know that our staff must have access to high-quality professional development and learning opportunities to help inform their practice. Our instructional coaches play a critical role in providing teachers with feedback on curriculum and instruction, identifying new strategies to reach all students, and supporting classroom and professional development.
This past July, we welcomed Dr. Katryna Andrusik as our new High School Instructional Coach. Dr. Andrusik joins us from the Urban Teacher Center where she worked as the Assistant Director of Curriculum and Professional Development, Special Education and Humanities for four years. Dr. Andruisk received her PhD from the University of Maryland-College Park. Her research focused on Special Education and Learning Disabilities.
We asked Dr. Andrusik a few questions about her path to Capital City and felt her passion for education was too good not to share from her own perspective.
Capital City: What drew you to the education field, or rather, why did you choose this profession?
Dr. Andrusik: I became a teacher after working as a tutor in college. I had a middle school student for two years, and as I approached the end of the first semester of senior year, I jokingly asked her what she thought I should do with my life. She replied that I should be a teacher because I was good at helping her and liked learning and would be good at it. So...I did. I had spent time with children at summer camps and as a nanny, so it actually made a lot of sense. Lesson learned: Listening to burgeoning teenagers isn't always such a bad idea. You might make a career out of a suggestion.
Capital City: Why did you want to work at Capital City?
Dr. Andrusik: I love being around students and teachers, i.e. being in a school, and this position offered the opportunity to work with teachers, support curriculum, and facilitate PD (professional development) in a school setting. Having worked for eight years in K-12 and taught courses in education at the undergraduate and graduate level has prepared me to support both our students and our teachers. Capital City has a reputation as a great place to work, and I wanted to spend my days with smart, enthusiastic, motivated, and vested colleagues. I love the Expeditionary Learning model and its essential component, advisory. I had an advisory during my time as a high school teacher, and I'm a little jealous that the teachers have a group all to themselves. The relationships fostered and nurtured there are truly life-long. I hope to spoil my faculty advisory with attention, chocolate, and support.
Capital City: What excites you about this position? What are you most looking forward to this school year?
Dr. Andrusik: I LOVE working with such smart people! It's amazing how much talent is under this roof, and I'm excited to learn from every colleague. I am most looking forward to more deeply understanding Expeditionary Learning as it looks at the High School level, and to supporting our students in truly understanding our community values, particularly integrity, courage, and compassion. We don't see enough of those values practiced in our society, and I believe our students can be leaders of a generation that understands the importance of contribution to the community through acting with these values in mind.
“A journey with a purpose,” said Jake Fishbein, Mid-Atlantic School Designer for EL, “is how I think about learning expeditions.”
Fishbein has worked with Capital City teachers for the past two years to design rigorous expeditions that foster student curiosity, knowledge, and creativity.
This past summer, Capital City Instructional Coaches and Fishbein led an “Expedition Bootcamp” for new and returning staff that focused on diving deeply into the multiple aspects of a high-quality expedition. This included creating a common understanding of the criteria for an expedition and working to develop or refine expedition plans for the upcoming school year. Teachers shared plans with their peers and staff from all campuses and provided feedback and suggestions for strengthening each other’s expeditions.
Capital City believes that the teacher is a learner just as much as the student and that learning is a life-long process. As teachers drafted, revised, and consulted with their peers about their expeditions, they wrote a compelling story describing what they wanted their students to experience during the expeditions. As teachers reflected on the day-to-day plans for their expedition, they challenged themselves to grasp the long-term goal. What did they want their students to learn about themselves and their world that would stay with them beyond this school year?
“Capital City’s Expeditionary Learning model and the degree that teachers are engaged in designing curriculum is unique, “ said Head of School Karen Dresden. “This is not easy and requires significant planning and expertise.” Dresden noted that it is through this model, however, that we attract amazing teachers who are excited about this opportunity to develop curriculum rather than implement a packaged curriculum that has been handed to them. It is also through this process that we offer rich opportunities for students. “When teachers are excited and invested in the content they are teaching, students become excited and engaged,” she continued.
Fishbein often uses an example of an actual wilderness expedition to help teachers move from the small to big picture, and “breaking it down into the same pieces as curriculum.” He often uses the examples of climbing Everest or skiing across the North Pole as these are easy for individuals to grasp. “It helps to build a mental framework for thinking about the potential of Learning Expeditions to empower students,” he said. He challenges teachers to think about how to apply those same pieces to their classroom. “I usually ask teachers to reverse engineer a content topic or real world product by asking something like, ‘If you were to study this topic as a professional, what would you need to know or be able to do?’” explained Fishbein.
This makes sense since Expeditionary Learning’s roots can be found in Outward Bound, a program that focuses on providing youth with the opportunity to take healthy risks through mentally and physically challenging outdoor experiences.
With so many expeditions to highlight this school year, Fishbein offered a taste of an expedition from each campus.
Lower School: The 4th grade expedition revolves around the question of, “What makes a place great?” Students will explore ancient Mali, contemporary DC, and finally Capital City, as great places. The students’ product will be a documentary about the school for its 15th anniversary.
Middle School: The 6th grade expedition will focus on labor. Teachers will take students into several historic examples of people advocating for their rights as workers and humans. The idea is to take this historical perspective to help students construct their own viewpoint. The students will then learn to influence a contemporary labor issue important to them.
High School: In 10th grade chemistry, students will explore the city's water supply and determine ways to keep water safe, a great example of how an expedition can weave content standards into a compelling and important topic.
Are you a resident of DC with a 5th or 6th grader? Capital City has a few slots still open for 2014-2015 school year.
Families can find information for applying to Capital City here:http://www.ccpcs.org/admissions/applying-to-capital-city/