Photo by wu.peng on Flickr.

Thanks to a unique collaboration, students from some of DC’s most popular charter schools will join together to continue their Chinese, Spanish, or French immersion instruction through high school. Next fall, students from the 5 feeder schools will become part of the inaugural 6th- and 7th-grade classes at DC International School (DCI).

For the first year the school will operate with 200 students in a temporary location that is yet to be determined. In the fall of 2015, DCI plans to open at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Ward 4 with 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. Eventually the school will expand to 12th grade with 1,000 to 1,200 students and will graduate its first class in 2020.

The agreement between the feeder schools offers students a path to further their language development while attending a middle and high school that offers a wide choice of courses and activities, something none of the charter schools would likely be able to afford to do on their own.

The feeder schools are Latin American Montessori Bilingual (LAMB), Mundo Verde, DC Bilingual, Elsie Whitlow Stokes, and Washington Yu Ying. Enrollment will also be open to students not currently attending those schools.

For the 5 schools, the collaboration came naturally. In addition to language immersion, all employ similar flavors of inquiry-based curriculums. Yu Ying follows the International Baccalaureate framework, while the other schools use inquiry-based learning, Expeditionary, or Montessori instruction. DCI will follow the IB curriculum framework with a focus on internationalism, inquiry, environmental stewardship, and social justice.

Schools too small to offer rich secondary experience

Yu Ying, where two of my children are enrolled, opened in the fall of 2008 as a Mandarin immersion school with pre-k, kindergarten, and 1st grades. The school planned to add one grade per year through 8th grade. But in 2011, it became clear to then-Executive Director Mary Shaffner that the size of the school would eventually limit options for students in the upper grades.

“We believed that our school was too small to provide a rich middle school experience,” said Shaffner, now DCI’s chief operating officer.

Shaffner found that many other charter leaders shared her frustration. This led her and administrators from Mundo Verde, LAMB, and Stokes to think about creating a combined middle/high school that would allow students who have been enrolled in immersion programs for as many as six years to continue their language instruction. DC Bilingual joined the team a few months later.

DCI aims to create an inclusive environment through choice. Everyone who graduates will receive a DC high school diploma, but beyond that, students will be able to pursue a range of options. Students will be able to choose to take selected IB courses or earn the IB diploma. They can also earn the IB diploma in their target language. Students who may not be planning to attend college will be able to obtain a career certificate in a particular field of study.

Students at DCI will technically remain enrolled at the feeder schools they came from. The school also plans to admit some students who come from other schools every year, depending on available space, through 9th grade. Due to the rigorous nature of the IB program, DCI will not accept new students after 9th grade.

The plan is to offer science, fine arts, PE, language instruction, and humanities in some or all of the target languages. Students admitted in later grades, who will have varying levels of language mastery, will be able to receive language instruction before taking other classes in their target language.

Benefits of language immersion

Studies have shown that language immersion, when done right, can benefit students cognitively while not negatively affecting scholastic performance in the non-immersion language. Two critical aspects of successful programs, which are in place at Yu Ying, are parallel curriculums in both languages and plenty of support in the non-immersion language.

DCI is already working on architectural and construction plans for the Walter Reed location. The medical center was closed in 2005 as part of a broader closure of military bases and the property is expected to be transferred to the District any day.

The school’s permanent home will include 130,000 square feet in Delano Hall, which was built in 1933 as a nurse’s dormitory and later converted to office space. DCI will be just one part of an extensive reuse plan for the 67-acre site.

The DC government recently chose a team of master developers, Hines and Urban Atlantic. That clears the way for DCI to solidify a schedule for its construction.

Architect rendering of DCI. Photo from DCI.

Considerable renovations will be needed to turn the space into a school, but DCI’s architect, Perkins Eastman, is well equipped for the job. Recently, the firm designed the Concordia International School in Shanghai, shown below.

Photo by Tim Griffith.

DC residents can also view the firm’s handiwork at the recently renovated Washington Latin School. Among other features, DCI will have a gym/auditorium, student commons, and a soccer field.

I grew up in a city where students attended their neighborhood schools almost without exception, because every school provided a similar high-quality learning experience. When I moved to DC in 2006, navigating the school system was a bit overwhelming. I appreciate the quality education my oldest has already received at Yu Ying, and knowing that my children will be able to attend DCI provides added peace of mind.

DCI is hosting an information session at Yu Ying (220 Taylor St., NE) on December 10th at 6:30pm. DCI is not participating in the common lottery this year. Those interested can apply through this link.