By Sara Gopalkrishna, Policy Fellow
No one should ever turn down an opportunity to tour a pre-K classroom in DC. Lucky for me, an opportunity was presented to me. As part of the First Fridays tour of DC charter schools, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Charter School welcomed us to their new East End campus. Stokes PCS is known in the city as providing dual-language instruction for elementary school students. They offer Spanish-English and French-English elementary school classrooms. Linda Moore founded the school in 1998 and named it after her mother. After moving from its first location in Mt. Pleasant to 16th Street NW, the first campus eventually found its home in Brookland.
With the Brookland campus in such high demand—that it seemed that only siblings could enroll—it was time to expand after 20 years. With careful and deliberate planning, the Stokes team planned and opened its second campus in fall 2018, enrolling 135 pre-K and kindergarten students. Tucked in the eastern-most corner of the city in Ward 7, Stokes East End is the only bilingual elementary school east of the river. The school shares a building with Maya Angelou PCS, a high school. The two schools strategically share the gym, the cafeteria, and other resources such that the young scholars and older ones are kept separate, using shared spaces at different times of the day.
One can only smile when walking along the freshly painted yellow and white hallway of the school. (In the coming years, the school will expand to include a hallway on the second floor, where the magic of elementary school interior design and construction is about to get started!) The classrooms are well-appointed with brightly colored rugs and walls covered with instructional decorations and loads of student creations. The atmosphere is playful yet structured. I can easily believe that the young students are learning without knowing they are learning.
During my visit, I could sense pride in the school, as the staff spoke of their sense of a “cohesive community,” their social justice perspective, and the 10-plus year tenure of many staff members.
Having been founded over 20 years ago, Stokes staff and parents include alumni among their ranks. Half of the East End staff came from the Brookland campus and described a sense of separation within a family, but still do meet regularly on one campus or the other. Our tour hosts emphasized the schools’ commitment to “quality of life” for both students and staff. They also talked about the value they place on the theme of wellness through physical education, freshly prepared meals, and a fully functioning kitchen, which they have in Brookland, but is in development at the East End campus. In 2011, the school earned a USDA Gold distinction for its promotion and implementation of wellness, recognition of their efforts on behalf of student health and wellness.
DC is rightfully proud of the preschool opportunities available to its residents. Stokes East End is evidence that our preschool seats are quality ones. It gives me great hope for the future of the DC’s students when they can start their school experience at Stokes, especially now that they are increasing their capacity and, specifically, setting up shop in Ward 7.