By: Abby Ragan, Policy Fellow
Earlier this week, Ward 3 representative Ruth Wattenberg, Ward 4 representative Lannette Woodruff and SBOE staff visited the new campus of DC International School. The group was welcomed by Principal Simon Rodberg and taken on tours of the building by pairs of student ambassadors. The SBOE team was able to sit down for a roundtable discussion with Principal Rodberg, Ms. Deirdre Bailey, the grades 9/10 Assistant Principal, Allison Sandusky, the Director of Student Culture and Lauren Games, the Communications Associate.
DCI is a Tier 1 school serving grades 6-10 (with plans to expand to 6-12) with a one-to-one technology system based on three areas: International Baccalaureate, Student Agency, and Language Immersion. DCI plans to provide IB program offerings in both the Diploma and Careers tracks. DCI students are from all 8 wards, but a majority are from wards 1, 4, and 5- the same wards where DCI’s feeder schools are located. 51% of DCI students qualify for free or reduced lunch while 14% of the population receive special education services. These demographics present a diverse student body with varied opportunities and interests in clubs such as Baking, Debate, Sewing, Italian cooking, Star Wars, Homework Help, and Rock Band.
DCI students may pick one of three language tracks: Spanish, French, and Chinese. Because DCI is a public option created from an aggregation of five elementary bilingual options in the District, the majority of DCI students come from these feeder schools. Spanish is DCI’s largest program with 3.5 of the feeder schools focusing on Spanish, .5 on French, and 1 on Chinese. Students take language classes daily as well as electives taught in their chosen language.
Students’ language experiences are enhanced by the travel abroad service opportunities, which occur after their 8th and 10th grade year. This summer, rising 9th graders will have the opportunity to go to China under either the advanced or language learner tracks, Senegal, or Costa Rica. Our 9th grade student ambassadors excitedly related stories of trips to China to teach English to younger students and to Quebec to help clean beaches. These trips are conducted through a partnership with Walking Tree, an organization that the Smithsonian uses to provide international opportunities to students all over the nation. To make these possibilities more accessible, DCI covers 80% of the cost of these trips with extra scholarships available to those in need. They expect almost 100 students to go on these trips this year.
DCI’s schedule is also highly innovative. Because both middle and high school students are integrated into one building, there are different schedules occuring simultaneously. Particularly, the majority of classes are separate, but free time is not. Class sizes were reported to be around 20. Student ambassadors highlighted “Brunch”- a 20 minute snack period after the 1st two periods to provide a break in addition to a traditional lunch period later in the day. They have “A” and “B” days where electives are switched as well as a 1 pm school end time on Friday.
DCI focuses on equity in many ways, highlighted in their restorative justice program. Ms. Sandusky emphasized a Peer Mediation program, an integral part of the adjustment to a new school culture for DCI, where children feel heard and are shown model behavior by peers who have experienced misbehavior and DCI’s discipline systems before. She believes programs like this contribute to DCI’s 6.9% suspension rate, well below the DCPS average.
DCI prides itself on its experimental and reflective culture, evident in the way students and administrators spoke about the their experiences. The SBOE is grateful for the hospitality displayed and the opportunity to visit the DCI campus.