Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in Colonial America? Or how to use a "necessary" and cook meals over an open fire?
This past spring, Capital City fourth graders traveled from 21st century DC to 18th century colonial America within only an hour. In a two-day trip to Claude Moore Farm in McLean, VA, students experienced first-hand the life of a pre-revolutionary war colonist.
Students stayed overnight on the farm, slept outdoors in tents without running water or bathrooms, and cooked their own meals, including roast chicken, but not before they also gathered the wood and started the fire.
The students and teachers gathered in colonial classrooms during the day, learned songs and their multiplication tables, and played colonial games such as chess and checkers.
The overnight at the farm was part of the 4th grade’s spring expedition on Colonial America. It was experiential fieldwork, giving students the opportunity to immerse themselves in colonial life.
In preparation for the trip, students learned about the many types of people involved in Colonial America – the people who surrounded George Washington --including colonists, Native Americans, slaves, loyalists and indentured servants. Students chose one of these groups, conducted research, designed their own character sketch, and gained a personal understanding of how they lived during that time.
When they got to the farm, students were each given different tasks, depending on the group they selected. Some students built a fort in the forest, others dug terrains deep in the woods to use as bathrooms, while others explored what it was like to be a slave and how difficult it may have been to escape slavery. No matter the activity, though, the fourth graders all agreed that the everyday life in Colonial America was hard work. “It was so impressive to see the students jump into the experience while stepping outside of their comfort zone by taking risks and trying new things,” said 4th grade teacher, Angela Malone.
After returning from the farm, students wrote individual narratives on their character’s experience. This gave the students an opportunity to gain insight into colonial life and helped to identify some of the causes of the Revolutionary War.
They also learned invaluable lessons about how to live without access to technology and other modern-day conveniences that many people take for granted.
This experience at Claude Moore Farm gave Capital City fourth graders an authentic representation of colonial history by providing perspective and context for present day life.
“Conjunction junction, what’s your function?” chimes the 1970s educational cartoon, Schoolhouse Rock!
Some Capital City parents and staff may have grown up hearing this jingle on Saturday morning TV. But this past spring, our Middle School students brought this show to life to teach others about grammar, science, history, and civics.
The production was Capital City Middle School’s first musical. It was a collaborative effort, with 25 students working together to showcase their drama and music skills — both integral components of a Capital City education. Joanna Lewton, MS Drama Teacher, and Ayanna Gallant, MS Music Teacher, coordinated the production with choreography support from Josh Chambers, MS Coordinator of School Culture.
The performance was completely student-led. Students took on the roles of directors, prop and costume designers, running crew, and sound operators, and even made many of the artistic and logistical decisions. “Students would run ideas past Ms. Gallant and me,” said Lewton, “and all we would have to say was ‘Sounds great. Let’s roll with that.’"
Through twice-a-week practices, students learned how to perform their own solos and to act and dance as part of a musical arrangement. They also made new friends along the way. “At our first rehearsal,” said Lewton, “I said to the cast and crew, ‘Raise your hand if there is somebody in this group you have never seen before’, and all 25 students raised their hands.”
By the end of the production, however, students were playing together, working together and supporting each other, noted Lewton. “The production only worked because all the students really gave 100%,” she says.
Behind the scenes, Middle School CREWs transformed the cafeteria into a temporary theatre, setting up and preparing the stage prior to rehearsals. Contributions from the Parent School Association who donated hanging microphones and other equipment, and from individual donors like Mr. Arthur Eddy helped make the experience more authentic for the students and audience. “The biggest lesson the students were reminded of,” said Lewton, “was how something can both be a lot of rigorous work, and really, really fun at the same time.”
As the performance dates approached, students were especially nervous to perform for their Middle School peers. As one student explained, "little kids are really nice and our parents love us no matter what we do." Their worries were turned into triumph as they successfully performed in front of their peers. “The cast and crew were thrilled after the middle school performance,” said Lewton, “The whole middle school was such a supportive and respectful audience.”
This production displayed our students’ artistic talents. However, there is the potential for more at Capital City. The school’s 800-seat theater is not currently an operational space, special events and performances, like Schoolhouse Rock!, are held in our cafeteria or other common spaces. Although most areas of the school were renovated prior to our move in 2012, the theatre sits unused and its renovation remains a top priority for our facility improvements.
The renovation of the theatre would offer an unparalleled opportunity for our students. With the space, we could host arts performances, all-school meetings, and graduations to celebrate and display the many accomplishments of our students. Capital City is currently building a sustainable long-term fundraising program to help garner philanthropic support to raise funds such a project.
In the meantime, Ms. Lewton, who will become Capital City’s first Arts Director this fall, along with our six music and drama teachers, have their sights set high for the coming school year. They hope to incorporate the visual arts and dance into this year’s productions. Each drama teacher is excited to direct performances that can engage each campus.
“This next year will be a growing year for us, but lots of exciting things will be happening,” said Lewton. For more information about our upcoming performances, check the school’s calendar on our web site. Performances will be posted as dates are finalized. These performances will surely be not to be missed!
Photos courtesy of Maggie Boland and Lisa Cohen.
Since joining Capital City in June, our new Chief Operating Officer, Jonathan Weinstein, has spent countless hours preparing our building for the first day of school, From managing the big-picture budget down to the small details of equipment orders, his focus is to align day-to-day operations with the school’s mission.
“Capital City is such a positive place to be - to learn and to work,” says Jonathan. “I was really looking forward to working with such a committed team, and I have not been disappointed.”
Jonathan’s passion for education began long before he joined Capital City. A natural leader, he has volunteered as a scoutmaster, Little League coach, tutor, Big Brother, and coordinator of a high school business plan program. In 2001, he began consulting with public charter schools in DC on their facilities financing and development issues, helping several schools to find their initial, and then permanent, sites, including former DC Public School buildings.
Prior to Capital City, Jonathan served as Deputy COO at Friendship Public Charter School, overseeing the operations of the school’s six campuses. “I enjoy working with kids and helping others to do the same,” says Jonathan. “All of this, and my nine years as CFO/COO of a local development and consulting firm, have really prepared me for this role. “
But as each school and organization is different, Jonathan is making it a priority to get to know the team here at Capital City. “I know that my ability to do my job means getting to know everyone else in the building and what they need to be successful,” says Jonathan. He has had such an opportunity to meet some staff and nearly 400 students during summer school.
“While summer has been a good opportunity to ease into the work, I have not yet met most of the teachers, students and parents whose needs are my main concern,” says Jonathan. “As I do, I will strive to listen, share and communicate clearly how we can work together toward all of us succeeding in our goals.”
As he and all Capital City staff prepare to welcome back students and their families on the first day of school, please join us in welcoming Jonathan Weinstein to the Capital City family!
Get to Know Jonathan:
Teachers sometimes use getting-to-know you games, such as “Two truths and a lie,” to get to know their students. We asked Jonathan to tell us two truths and one lie about himself.
Which do you think is false? He’s got us guessing!
(1) I once spent a night hanging out with Dom Delouise and the cast of Cirque du Soleil.
(2) I have stood with a foot on each side of the equator.
(3) I met Fidel Castro while I was studying economic development in Havana. He’s got us guessing!
Before donning a cap and gown, every Capital City senior must first complete one final semester-long challenge: the Senior Expedition.
A rite of passage at Capital City, the Senior Expedition is an intensive, semester-long, individual research project and a key component of Expeditionary Learning. Students conduct and prepare a research thesis on a topic of their choice, interview community experts, conduct their own fieldwork, and design a product to address a problem uncovered through their research. The expedition culminates with an hour-long presentation in which the students share their process and findings to a panel of teachers and community members.
Our alumni have noted that the Senior Expedition has been the most helpful tool in their college years, providing them with the critical thinking, independent learning, and research skills needed for college-level work.
“It is a demonstration of their ability to delve deeply into a topic they care about,” says Justin Sybenga, 12th Grade English Teacher. “It is an honest and deep reflection of who our students are as learners.”
For this article, we interviewed two of Capital City most recent graduates, Juan Turcios and Priscilla Gonzalez, about the Senior Expedition and how it prepared them for college.
Capital City: What was your expedition about? Why did you choose this topic?
Juan: “I was interested in the 9/11 attacks, and I wanted to find out how this affected Muslim Americans. I wanted the other perspective because I saw that people were blaming Muslims, and I wanted to know how they felt about this.”
Priscilla: “I researched the effects of toys on gender identity. My project looked at the social effects of gender-based toys, and how it may discourage girls from choosing who they want to be. Growing up, instead of being attracted to the pink aisles in toy stores like I was expected to, I was actually a huge fan of typical 'boy toys' that I would find in the blue aisles. I realized that I was very different from my female peers; I didn't like dolls, I didn't know how to jump rope and I really disliked wearing dresses. I was much more of a 'Tomboy,' I loved sports, and playing with Legos and cars. I came to the conclusion that the toys my peers and I played with also reflected our interest and the gender roles we placed on ourselves. As I got older, I noticed the gender stereotypical themes in the pink and blue aisles [in stores]. I wondered why the pink aisles only had toys that focused on beauty and domestic activities while the blue aisles were filled with violent and educational toys. I wanted a deeper understanding of the effects that gender-based toys place on a young girl's gender identity and their future career aspirations.”
Capital City: What was the fieldwork that you did? How did this guide your research of your topic?
Juan: “I went to a mosque in DC. I went to a class for non-Muslims. They talked about myths and stereotypes, and I took a tour of the mosque. There were about 15 people in the class, especially a lot of young people. Most attendees were there because they had family members that had converted to Islam or married someone who was Muslim, and they wanted to understand their family member’s faith better. My fieldwork expanded my learning greatly. I went to a mosque when I was in 9th grade but I only looked at the architecture. This time, I went for the perspective to understand the religion, and it helped me understand more about Islam.”
Priscilla: “I visited a childcare center. At this center, I observed the type of toys that both male and female children played with during their playtime. I also asked them a series of questions about gender roles and why they like specific toys. During my research, specifically when I read scholarly articles, I came across many interviews given to young children about gender roles and toys. Reading the responses that the children gave was very interesting, but hearing four-year-olds respond to my own questions was a great experience. Before I arrived at my fieldwork I predicted that the children would have stereotypical answers to questions like ‘Can a girl become a fire fighter?’ Or ‘Who cleans the house, mom or dad?’ But I was actually proven wrong at times. Some of these children were actually aware of existing gender stereotypes but completely went against them. It was very interesting to hear the perspectives of four-year-old children who actually grow up in our present-day toy aisles.”
Capital City: How did you feel going into your Senior Expedition presentation panel?
Juan: “I was a little bit late, and I had to rush. I apologized for being late to my panelists. I was nervous about how they would perceive my presentation. I spoke about why I chose this topic and I felt that the audience was engaged. They asked questions about why I thought the prejudice against Muslims started after the 9/11 attacks. I was able to talk about the tensions of the Gulf War and the first attack at the World Trade Center in the 90s. I demonstrated my research knowledge. I talked about the fear that the media portrayed about Muslims.”
Priscilla: “On the presentation day, I was one of the first three people to present of my entire class. I was so nervous and afraid that I nearly cried before it was time for me to present my project.”
Capital City: How do you think your expedition prepared you for college?
Juan: “I have heard from a lot of Capital City graduates, and they have all said that it was a very important process, because they learned to research and annotate papers. I learned to write a long paper with an introduction and a conclusion. The senior expedition was stressful, but I liked how I got into my topic. In the beginning, I only had an idea of what I wanted to do, but I had no idea about what I would learn. It was interesting to learn about someone else’s perspective.”
Priscilla: “Senior Expedition is one of the best projects I have accomplished in my entire twelve years of being a student. This project required me to challenge myself to write a ten-page paper and push myself out of my comfort zone to contact two experts and to independently arrange my own fieldwork. Having strong writing skills, being able to jump out of my comfort zone and being independent are very important skills that I lacked but have now gained for my future years as a college student.”
Capital City: What’s next for you?
Juan: “I’ll be studying Pre-Med/Biology at Montgomery College. I want to do something in the medical field or science education.”
Priscilla: “I plan to attend Montgomery College for my first two years of college. After two years, I plan on transferring to Towson University. I loved the school spirit and the beautiful suburban setting [when I visited the school]. I plan to minor in Women’s Studies because I am very interested in learning about the rocky history of women, not only in the United States but also all over the world.
Thank you to teachers Justin Sybenga, Kavitha Kasargod, and Ellen Royse for their assistance with this article.
“It might sound crazy what I’m about to say,” sings 8th grader, Felicia, in a Capital City music video. “But the struggle’s real with obesity.”
Using Pharrell Williams’ popular song, “Happy,” 8th graders students produced and performed in a music video about “being healthy.” The video encouraged community members, youth, and educators to attend the inaugural Health & Wellness Fair on May 16, 2014. The fair would be the culminating work of the 8th grade expedition on food.
Wait. Food? What does an “expedition on food” even mean and how is this rigorous education?
Through a focus on the Common Core State Standards, 8th grade teachers guided students through the topic of food and nutrition, across multiple disciplines. In their Humanities class, they read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan to learn about processed versus unprocessed foods. Ms. Bri Zika, 8th grade teacher, challenged students to write persuasive arguments about the federal government’s school food program. In math class, students analyzed the caloric intake of a variety of food, looking at the dietary components of each item, and learning how to use this knowledge outside of the classroom.
To gain greater insight about wellness, students participated in fieldwork in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, learning simple exercises to employ at home. They met with experts from a variety of organizations through the 8th Grade Health Symposium in which they learned about how eating unhealthy foods affects our health, the effect of mass-produced food on the environment, and how to provide sustainable healthy food options, to name a few.
Along the way, students were challenged to think about how food relates to their daily lives. The end goal, they knew, would be to take their newly found knowledge and convince others that eating healthy and being active is possible for everyone. To achieve this goal, students worked in groups to design presentations for the first-ever 8th grade Health & Wellness Fair. They were expected to think creatively about how to engage a variety of audiences on their chosen topics.
On the day of the fair, which was held in Capital City’s gym, the students’ excitement and knowledge surrounding healthy living was impossible to miss. Groups of students crowded around booths and were eager to share and involve guests in their presentations.
“I loved that students chose so many diverse products to display during the Health & Wellness Fair,” said 8th Grade Science Teacher Monique Jackson. For instance, a vegan student, Monica, was able to introduce fair attendees to delicious, low-calorie, vegan cupcakes while another student, Martin, challenged gamers to a virtual "dance contest." They had to be persuasive, confident, and provide facts to back up their claims. “Students took their roles as resident experts seriously,” continued Jackson.
8th Grade Inclusion Teacher Christina Marino was particularly impressed with the healthier snack option booth. “Students researched and calculated the nutritional value [of French fries] to provide the community with a quick, easy, healthier alternative to a common snack,” Marino said.
Laina Cox, Middle School Principal, was especially impressed with the authenticity of the products that students produced, a key component of Expeditionary Learning. Rigor, she added, was evident at every booth. "Our student-led 8th grade health fair empowered not only the 8th graders, but also the entire MS student body to become more aware about their health,” Cox said.
Students finished their expedition on food not only with a greater understanding of health and wellness, persuasive writing, presenting to a varied audience, and product design, but also with a sense of pride and accomplishment. They set the bar high for rising 8th graders, and given the right ingredients, we are certain the next class will step up to the challenge just as their predecessors did. A Capital City 4th grader commented to her teacher after the fair: “Will we get to do this when we're in 8th grade? This was fun!" If that’s any indication, we can expect the rigor, educational curiosity, and deeper learning to continue to thrive in the middle school.