Education Spotlight: Rosslyn's Secondary Schools
Rosslyn is home to an exciting and growing education sector, from secondary to postgraduate offerings. This group of institutions is helping to establish a strong talent pipeline here in Arlington, with a future workforce equipped with the knowledge and skills desired by our region’s top companies. The Rosslyn BID is highlighting these schools and universities as part of an Education Spotlight Series.
Next, we’re spotlighting the middle and high schools of Rosslyn, including H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Program, which share The Heights Building at 1601 Wilson, and The Sycamore School at 1550 Wilson. Both schools have relocated to Rosslyn in recent years (H-B and Shriver in 2019; TSS in 2023), and have already provided much liveliness and value to our neighborhood through community involvement.
Read on to learn more about these programs from The Sycamore School Founder and Head of School Karyn Ewart and H-B Woodlawn Assistant Principal Graham McBride.
What differentiates your schools from traditional middle and high school programs?
Graham McBride: “H-B is an alternative program, started in 1971, with one of the central tenets being that traditional school environments aren’t best for every kid. Though we offer most of the same classes as the more comprehensive middle and high schools, there are some differences in our philosophy and in day-to-day life. As a small, but public, alternative, we offer our students choice and voice in how the school is run. Each student can vote on the classes we offer, what extracurriculars we offer, and can help make hiring decisions. We partner with students to scaffold free time during the day as they go through the years, hoping they build towards self-governance. We offer an open campus, and operate on trust. Our core pillars are Self-Directed Learning, Self-Governance, Caring Community, and Equity. The vast majority of our students approach postsecondary education or work knowing they’ve had a say in how their education unfolded.
We are also co-located with the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Program, a grade 6-12 program for APS students with disabilities. We partner with them on buddy programs, in their classrooms, and for Special Olympics events, and share a cafeteria, bus loop, auditorium, gym, and lots of hallway space every day.”
Karyn Ewart: “The Sycamore School is a mastery-based school that integrates academic development, social and emotional learning, and civic engagement. We create a meaningful learning process, whereby teachers personalize instruction according to students’ interests, needs, and aptitudes. Teaching focuses on cultivating transferable skills in students that apply to various jobs or tasks across settings, such as effective communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. We want to partner with parents and the community to design experiences in and outside the classroom.
We offer middle and high school students a different type of learning community that actively engages students through providing small classes in a safe, nurturing, and inclusive community, self-paced competency-based learning, engaging “hands on” and cooperative learning opportunities, curricula that incorporates student interests and connects to life outside school, student choices of how they engage with the curriculum and display mastery, tools to increase self-awareness, self-monitoring and mindfulness, and real world learning experiences.”
How does being an urban school influence the overall student learning experience?
GM: “On the social/logistical end, there are so many more options for food and entertainment for both staff and students, which has been great. It’s also such a transit-rich environment, so there are many ways of commuting for both staff and students. We’ve been able to utilize metro and ART buses for field trips to DC as well.”
KE: “The community is our campus. We regularly go into the community for field trips, community service outings, and extension activities. Our Movement & Mindfulness class meets at local parks. Many of our students travel to school by metro and bus.”
The Sycamore School focuses on a small student to teacher ratio and capped overall enrollment – what are the biggest benefits to limiting class and enrollment size?
KE: “Every student at TSS feels seen and heard. Many students can feel lost or invisible in a larger school setting. Our students receive individualized instruction and support based on their unique learning strengths and needs. We address social emotional learning and executive functioning skills support in real time utilizing two full time school counselors.”
H-B focuses on empowering students with control of their own education. How is that exhibited in the day-to-day school routines?
GM: “We have a weekly town meeting, where every student and staff member’s vote counts the same. We vote on approving hiring committees, timing of special events, approval of clubs, and discuss issues that affect the community in a structured environment. Our high school students also have free periods built into their days, where they can do homework, snack, visit with friends or teachers, and their location is up to them.
Many of our students propose and undertake independent study courses, on topics of interest to them, with a chosen faculty sponsor, for high school credit. High school seniors propose and choose English elective courses for a semester. Some teachers have contracts with students about how they will show mastery, and students choose from a variety of activities in that content area.”
What were the driving factors in selecting Rosslyn for The Sycamore School’s location?
KE: “We wanted to stay in Arlington and had several requirements for the space: Walking distance to the metro, walking distance from green space, a space for parent pick-up and drop off, a secure facility where we can have an enclosed school space, and room to expand.”
In what ways has H-B Woodlawn grown since coming to Rosslyn?
GM: “We moved in the fall of 2019, and COVID interrupted our first two school years here, so we’re still planting roots, so to speak. As an option school, our enrollment is capped, but we did grow into the building when we moved, and expanded our program to its current population of 725 students. We have built relationships with many businesses along the Rosslyn/Courthouse corridor, along with the Rosslyn BID. We’ve partnered with Arlington Transportation Partners, BikeArlington, and WalkArlington to provide commuter options and benefits for students and staff. We hope to build our relationships further and create a network for internships, guest speakers, and volunteer opportunities for residents and employees in Rosslyn – so we’re not done building those, and look forward to more!”