The Washington Informer, in a recent article, highlighted the Alpha Leadership Project (ALP), a program implemented at CCPCS to help young men of color succeed socially and academically.
Sekenia Welch, Capital City's DC College Access Program (DC-CAP) advisor, helps students apply for the DC- CAP to help students cover college costs, and Capital City ALP participants were interviewed about this unique leadership program that prepares youth for high school success, manhood, and college access. Additionally, ALP engages the young men in discussions about politics, popular culture, and current events. Students, who become part of the program through teacher recommendations, receive mentoring, attend personal development workshops, and are eligible for scholarships and other incentives if they and their families participate actively in program requisites. Find out more about the program on the ALP website.
Molly Whalen, a Capital City parent, joined our team this summer. She brings a wealth of communications and development experience. In a short Q & A, Molly shares her vision for Capital City.
What were you most excited about in coming to Capital City?
I have been active as a parent and community member in DC public education for over a decade, with a big emphasis on special education. As a DC resident and public school parent, I had been wanting to find a place to work more in-depth in the DC education environment and Capital City’s focus on personalized student education, not to mention the committed and simply brilliant team at the school, were all I needed to say YES to the position.
What are your top priorities in your first few months on the job?
Communication! While a big focus area for my position is fundraising and development, I believe that success here lies in relationship building, and all great relationships must have strong communications. I’m excited about streamlining and focusing all of Capital City’s communication efforts - internally: newsletters, emails, backpack mailings, and even the “popular” robo-calls, and externally.
What is your long-term vision for school communications and development?
Success for me will be when the entire parent, family, staff and student community has a clear picture of the educational day of students and can tell any stranger three great things about Capital City in a conversation. My job as a chief communications leader at the school is to make sure all the various areas at Capital City (and there are many!) are connected; and that we are sharing that far and wide in DC. I want people to always have Capital City on their short list of high performing public charter schools - and we do that through strong communications; and then the funds will follow!
How did you become involved in the education field, and specifically, in development and communications?
I’ve worked for nonprofits in communications, development, public relations, and leadership management for my entire career. I never thought I’d be in education, but it found me in a way. I have two children with Autism, and living in DC where the environment for special education and disabilities has been more than challenging for decades, I had to become well versed in special education and DC’s public education movement - along with negotiation, mediation, communications, etc. The more I learned, the more vocal I became, as I found that I needed to speak not just for my family, but for the many, many DC families who are just so overwhelmed with the process and system. I finally started putting my professional skills to work and became an education advocate, focusing on development and communications for schools, which led me to my previous position as Director of Development & Communications at The Ivymount School & Programs.
Get to Know Molly:
Teachers sometimes use getting-to-know you games, such as “Two truths and a lie,” to get to know their students. We asked Molly to tell us two truths and one lie about herself.
Which do you think is false? She’s got us guessing!
(1) I lived in Tehran, Iran as a child.
(2) I was the MVP on my track team as a HS sophomore.
(3) I learned to drive a stick-shift (manual transmission) car at age 14.
Think you know which is false? Email Molly at email@example.com to find out if you are correct.
Our 5th graders have made important steps to better understand and appreciate their immediate environment thanks to the “Save the Bay!” Expedition that they completed during the spring semester. They now have a keen understanding of their own impact on the environment as they explore the outdoors, their city, and the District’s natural surroundings during the summer months.
The expedition challenged students to identify the ways in which human activities have an impact on the environment and to research and propose solutions to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Students also learned to see the Bay and the Anacostia River as drinking water sources, home of a variety of wildlife, a place that pollution has drastically affected, and a place in need of protection.
As is typical for Expeditionary Learning, students engaged in a broad range of learning activities around this topic to develop multiple perspectives on the issue and deepen their learning. For instance, in Jessica Harrington’s Math and Science class, students discussed different factors that harm the Bay and researched scientific data that they then presented through infographics. In preparation for this assignment, graphic designer Bob Villaflor led a session on how to create effective and visually appealing infographics and showed some of the real-world examples he had created through his work at the Human Rights Campaign. The products of this exercise were compelling, as one can see with 5th Grader Mahlet’s infographic example that suggests how to reduce individual water use and how water conservation positively impacts the health of the Bay.
In Rachel Hull’s Humanities class, students read the book Flush by Carl Hiassen. The novel, set in the Florida Keys, has an environmental focus and served as a starting point for learning more about the key components of storytelling. Next, students wrote their own narratives and were challenged to incorporate dialogue and take on the point of view of an animal from the Chesapeake Bay. One student, for instance, narrated a story from the viewpoint of a blue heron that faced a problem of pollution in its habitat. The blue heron problem solved with other animals, such as a horseshoe crab that had experienced the negative effects of pollution or over-harvesting of their environment as well to propose a solution.
This was the first expedition for 5th grade Humanities teacher Rachel Hull, who joined Capital City this past February. She notes, “It was exciting to see the EL model at work,” and was impressed with how students incorporated facts into different contexts and used them to create different products (e.g. infographics, persuasive letters, and fictional narratives).
The “Save the Bay!” Expedition was developed in close partnership with the Anacostia Watershed Society (AWS), a nonprofit that works to restore the health of the Anacostia River and protects the environmental needs of the river and its watershed communities. In coordination with AWS, students grew various watershed plants at school and planted them during a later field trip to Kingman Island to gain first-hand experience of the environment that they were studying. They also took a boat trip on the Anacostia River to see the native flora and fauna, including many invasive species, about which they had learned.
The amount of garbage, specifically plastic bottles, in the water and shore became sadly apparent to the students. As a result of this experience, the students took action and sold reusable water bottles with the CCPCS logo at the school. They informed buyers about the environmental harm that disposable plastic bottles cause through student designed flyers that were included in the bottles to advocate for reducing plastic bottle usage. (See 5th Grader Keyri’s letter example). As a “pay it forward” moment, all the funds raised were donated to the AWS.
The 3rd Grade Spring Expedition on Ecosystems in the Oceans debunked the notion that the ocean has only one ecosystem. Through small group work, students focused on one of five ecosystems based on their interests -- rocky shores, deep sea, polar, kelp forest, and coral reef -- to discover what lives in the ocean and how its often-unseen ecosystems thrive.
Similar to other expeditions, the learning process provided students with real, meaningful fieldwork experiences and hands-on activities. Students visited Assateague Island on the Eastern Shore — an exciting fieldwork for so many who had never been to the beach or seen the ocean. In class, every student worked on their informational reading and writing skills as they created a group book, A Book about Whales that included students’ scientific drawings. They learned to create drafts, revise their work, and write to convey scientific knowledge.
Meanwhile, each ecosystem group developed projects to present at their final showcase of learning. The Rocky Shores group, for instance, created a play, learning how to interject sound effects that mimicked ocean life. The Kelp Forest and Polar groups built 3-D interactive exhibits of their ecosystems. They created a colorful and tactile kelp maze and an elaborate 3-D exhibit called Antarctic Krill Party (pictured to the left) that showcased krill creatures, a tiny yet crucial element in maintaining the polar ecosystem.
To create these exhibits, students worked closely with one of Capital City’s newest partners, FutureMakers. FutureMakers, an organization based in Baltimore, provides hands-on skill-building workshops for students. Gabriel Mellan, the FutureMakers Coach who worked with Capital City, collaborated with teachers to develop the Oceans expedition; however, the projects were entirely student-driven. Students learned how to handle new tools such as hot glue guns and hacksaws. Deliberate discussions about the tools’ purpose and reasons to be careful with them always preceded students’ use of these tools. Learning how to operate new tools gives students confidence in their tactile skills and provides students who may struggle in other areas with a positive learning experience.
Behind the high-quality work our students produced was our Third Grade Teaching Team who worked collaboratively to pull together an engaging expedition for students. Classroom Teacher Rachel Henighan reflected, “We balanced supporting each other, offering help, ideas, structures, accountability with trusting each other to do it well. And in the end, we were genuinely impressed by and grateful for each other's work.”
The end of the school year marks an important time of reflection and learning for students, particularly for those marking important milestones.
To celebrate the end to their Lower School experience and show their readiness for 5th grade, our 4th Graders presented their portfolios of learning to their peers, teachers, and administrators at the end of the school year. Through individual presentations, students had to explain how they had met the 4th grade learning standards using examples of their work as evidence. “Students needed to get way out of their comfort zone when presenting,” notes 4th Grade Teacher Elizabeth McNamee. “It gave them a new level of ownership and pride in their work.”
After completing the portfolio process, 4th graders participated in their 4th Grade Passage Ceremony to acknowledge their readiness for Middle School. “It marked such a big moment in their young lives,” says McNamee. “It was amazing to see the joy on the faces of the students and their families.”
Traditions, such as the portfolio process and passage ceremonies, are an important element of Capital City’s school culture. These moments celebrate students’ achievements, important markers in their lives, and recognize their contributions to the school community throughout the school year.
[caption id="attachment_6710" align="aligncenter" width="300"] 8th Grade Graduate with MS Principal Laina Cox during the 2015 8th Grade Passage Ceremony[/caption]
The 8th Grade Portfolio Process is more involved as it marks a student’s preparedness for high school. Through a 40-minute presentation, students demonstrate their analytical and public speaking skills, address questions from panelists, and solicit feedback on their presentations. They are able to identify their strengths and weaknesses to better understand themselves as learners, which eventually helps them succeed in high school. This is a rigorous process that pushes student to think deeply about their work and requires them to use all of the habits of scholars they have worked to develop in middle school (these habits include accountability, communication, organized, participates in revision and critique, producers of quality, reflection, and timeliness).
The culminating tradition for a Capital City student, though, is The Senior Expedition, a semester-long investigation of an issue that matters to the student. The Senior Expedition requires students to complete in-depth research that includes 30 primary and secondary sources, create a product, and defend their findings in a 50-minute presentation to a panel of judges. This process, according to several of our alumni, is what most prepared them for college. Recent Senior Expedition topics included discussions on Racism in Professional Sports, the American Response to Ebola, Race and Police Brutality, Growth Mindset, Media Portrayal of Youth, and Cyber Security, to name a few.
These intentional and challenging projects help students develop lifelong skills, and help them find their voice and their passion. By being part of Capital City, students find a supportive community that as 12th Grade English Teacher Justin Sybenga noted in his commencement speech to the Class of 2015, stresses to students that they “are loved, are gifted, and the world needs [them].”