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2016-07-20 12.44.27 (1)

Ever wonder what Capital City teachers do over the summer?

Our educators spend their breaks engaging in various professional development opportunities to grow their teaching practice. Ultimately, this will help them better serve our students. Many of our teachers traveled around the country - and overseas(!) - to learn new skills to bring back to their classrooms.
 High School Chemistry Teacher, Liane McGillen, for example, went all the way to the Dominican Republic to learn how the organization Wine to Water provides clean water for local communities. During her stay, Liane helped build 33 ceramic pots that can be used to filter water. She also helped deliver these filters to local families. She plans to integrate her experience into the Chemistry/World History II Expedition, Water=Life: In Search of Solutions.  

Math Team2 (1)A team of Middle School math teachers (Chris Kenny, Taise Carson, Jessica Harrington, and Ariel Kramer) attended the International Congress on Math Education (ICME) in Hamburg, Germany thanks to a Fund for Teachers grant. The experience will help them prepare for the expansion of the Middle School’s Mathletes curriculum. The conference showed them how educators from other countries push their students’ thinking. Reflecting on the conference, the math team agrees that “through this experience, we can now provide a stronger and more realistic learning experience that helps our students to use and enjoy math more.”

Another team of teachers, Amrita Wassan, Laura Moye, Monet Cooper, and Leslie Welsh, this time from the High School, traveled to California to participate in a weeklong program at Stanford University’s Center to Support Excellence in Teaching as Hollyhock Fellows. The competitive two-year Hollyhock program provides mentorship to highly motivated teachers with the ultimate goal of ensuring that all students receive the excellent instruction they deserve.

While at Stanford, the over 100 participating educators from all across the country were charged with creating an equity inquiry project. Capital City’s Hollyhock Fellows decided to focus on developing strategies for facilitating classroom discussions that will help different student subgroups reach higher levels of critical thinking. The project made them also reflect on how their own identities outside of the classroom influence their perceptions of students and their families, the curriculum they create, and the education system itself.  

“Ohollyhock-fellows2ne thing I was concerned about was how the Hollyhock Fellowship was going to make space and discuss the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, which had occurred only a week prior to the fellowship's convening,” says Ms. Cooper, who found herself among a group of teachers eager to explore the meaning of those events for themselves and their work. “When I arrived I met other folks who were interested in beginning conversation, which turned into a series of three anti-oppression trainings we led around racism and education. Hollyhock is building this into its program budget this coming year for next year's new fellows and the returning cohort.” 

Two other High School teachers, Binni Chadda and Leslie Welsh, participated in a North Carolina Outward Bound School wilderness expedition. “It was certainly one of the more challenging things we have done - hiking with very heavy packs on, sleeping under tarps in the rain, leaping off high platforms during the ropes course - but at the same time, it was so fun,” says Ms. Welsh. “We created incredible connections with other educators, learned a ton of new initiatives and activities for the classroom and how to incorporate those into our curriculums, and discovered how to reinforce and authentically teach Capital City's community values.” 

Chadda and Welsh2Ms. Chadda, adds that she learned an important lesson from sharing her woes about the challenges of camping in bad weather with the group. “I called it ‘sharing my struggles,’ instead of complaining,” says Ms. Chadda, “because complaining sounds so negative. Often the struggle that I was having was the same that other crew members were experiencing. And that's the same with students and content in different subject areas. Students are often afraid to ask questions or to seek clarification because they don't want to look stupid, but once they speak up, they realize they helped other students to learn by being brave and asking questions.”

Our students will surely benefit from the new insights and tools that our teachers brought back to the classroom this school year from those summer learning experiences.  


Capital City Selected as a Winner in the Career and Technical Education Makeover Challenge

Capital City is one of only 10 schools to be named a CTE Makeover Challenge Winner by the U.S. Department of Education.

The CTE Makeover Challenge  called for schools to create models for transforming classrooms or other available spaces in high schools into "makerspaces" - places where students learn through making by giving them access to tools and materials that allow for designing and building innovations, ultimately preparing students for the high-skill, high-wage, and high-demand occupations of tomorrow.

The library team, including Director of Library Services and Technology Integration, Chip Chase, Library Assistant, Brandy Goffigan, and High School Librarian and Technology Teacher, Kishanna Harley, designed and prepared Capital City’s application for a makerspace that will be a hub of experiential learning in the school’s third-floor computer lab. Learn more about Capital City's makerspace plans here.

The Nest

  Capital City’s Makerspace, thanks to this award, will include stations for working with electronics, 3D Printing, digital design, robotics, sewing, and more for fabrication. The space will also provide raw materials and tools with which students can work. Additional mobile maker carts will allow for their deliberate integration into classrooms. Middle and high school students will be able to create physical or digital objects that bring concepts to life, thus bridging the divide between education and real world application.

“As an EL Education school,” said Chase, “our teachers are expected to craft meaningful learning experiences in which students engage in real-world problems and share their knowledge with the school community through high-quality projects. Through the makerspace, we will integrate design thinking principles into our curriculum, allowing students to be able to make richer projects and deliverables.”

Capital City and the nine other winning schools will each receive $20,000 in cash and a share of in-kind prizes from the $378,000 sponsor prize pool to help build or renovate their makerspaces. Capital City was one of 650 schools to apply for this award. As part of the award, Capital City will  produce and submit a video tour of our constructed models for use in the Makerspace Showcase, to be held at the World Maker Faire in New York City in October 2016.

“The makerspace will set our school apart,” says Chase, “as a place where students not only learn, but also gain independence, creativity, and STEAM skills.”


Ready or Not? 8th Grade Presentations Test High School Readiness

Finishing Middle School is an important milestone for any student. At Capital City, it involves the requirement of convincing a panel of strangers that you are ready for high school.

In the beginning of June, our 8th graders shared the outcomes of their learning process and personal reflections on the past school year in a 45-minute portfolio presentation, a requirement at Capital City for completing Middle School.

The students prepared for this moment rigorously all year long, but the work intensified over the last month before the presentations when students started to create their PowerPoint presentations, worked on their outlines, practiced and received feedback on their presentation skills, and organized their portfolios of exemplary work to share with their audience.

In their presentations, students are asked to give evidence of their high school readiness by providing an honest evaluation of their learning process, including the skills they have mastered and the challenges they encountered throughout the school year.

"A lot of it was reflecting on a whole year of work, and it was somewhat hard, because some projects we did a while back and I almost did not remember them," says Isabelle, who presented her portfolio de rave reviews, "but it was really good to go back to the different assignments and to notice how much I improved over time."

Green Ribbon

Capital City Named a U.S. Dept. of Education Green Ribbon School

The Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Christy Goldfuss joined U.S. Secretary of Education John King in an official announcement on April 29th to award Capital City as a 2016 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School honoree. Capital City was the only school in Washington, DC to receive this year’s distinction. The Office of the State Superintendent for Education nominated Capital City for this prestigious recognition, following a lengthy student-led application process. "This is an exciting recognition," says Head of School Karen Dresden. "It fits with our values of educating the whole child and providing a healthy environment for students and staff."

Capital City students have been leaders in our sustainable practices. In 2012, 7th and 8th grade students, as part of their Green Building Expedition, worked with experts from Alliance to Save Energy and the U.S. Green Building Council to investigate green building practices. They provided recommendations to the Board of Directors on green building designs that were incorporated into our renovation of our current building, such as slanted classroom ceilings that draw in more natural light.

Green Ribbon 2High School Urban Ecology and Honors Environmental Science students themselves were instrumental in completing the Green Ribbon Schools application. They met with engineers Cory Chimka and Emmanuel Laryea from the Sustainable Energy Utility of the District of Columbia to compile school usage and waste data. Students also took photos to document Capital City’s commitment to the three pillars of the Green Ribbon School award, 1. Reduced environmental impact and costs, 2. Improved the health and wellness of students and staff, and 3. Effective environmental and sustainability education.

“It was really interesting learning about that part of our school and understanding the amount of energy we use. We really use our energy wisely considering how many kids attend this school,” says 11th grader Jesamil, who worked on Capital City’s application.

In meeting the three pillars, Capital City was recognized for its LEED Gold-certified building design, school garden program, and hands-on expeditions that engage students with their natural environment, such as the 1st Grade Bee Expedition and the 11th Grade Food Justice for All Expedition. Expeditions are a key component of EL Education’s curriculum, and a defining feature of how Capital City engages and deepens students’ learning.


In total, across the country, 47 schools, 15 districts, and 11 postsecondary institutions were honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education. The schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions were confirmed from a pool of candidates voluntarily nominated by 27 state education agencies. The list of 73 total selectees includes 41 public schools and six private schools. The public schools include three charter and eight magnet schools. The schools serve various grade levels, including 27 elementary, 18 middle, and 14 high schools, with several schools having various K-12 configurations. Fifty-one percent of the 2016 honorees serve a disadvantaged student body. A report with highlights on the 73 honorees can be found on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.


5th Graders Study Local Ecosystem to “Save the Bay”

Thanks to their spring expedition, 5th graders participated in conservation efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

The 5th Grade Save the Bay expedition invites students to take an active role in learning about and caring for their local watershed. Students used and math science to learn about pollution and water issues affecting the Bay. Experts from Anacostia Watershed Society, a close partner of Capital City, visited with the students to explain how native plants help protect the watershed, specifically the Anacostia River. They then helped the students each grow a native plant in the classroom that could be transplanted to the Anacostia River.

On May 27, Captain Chris from the Anacostia Watershed Society (a close partner of Capital City) guided the students on a pontoon boat trip along the Anacostia River to help bring to life what they had been learning in class about their immediate environment and humankind's impact on it. The students observed turtles and ospreys and explored the habitat of the surrounding areas of the river.

In addition to the boat ride, they participated in a scavenger hunt that taught them more about the local ecosystem they had been studying as well as the work that is being done to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Students themselves then did their part to save the bay and restore the watershed by planting the native wetland plants they had grown in their classrooms while on their fieldwork along the Anacostia River.  

Back in the classroom, students decided they needed to teach others about the effects of pollution and how their peers can help protect the watershed and Bay.  For three days, students rummaged through the trash in the cafeteria and separated the trash among recyclables, unused food, compostables, and waste. They collected data that they then analyzed to identify the percent of each type of waste that was thrown away.  Their data was striking. The students found that only 30% of the trash was actual waste.

With this data in hand and after a visit from Bob Villaflor a graphic designer from the Human Rights Campaign, the students created PSAs to encourage others to reconsider what they throw away and why it matters.  Their PSAs were shared at their spring Celebration of Learning and will soon be displayed in the cafeteria.

See some of their PSAs here.