Rosslyn's new neighbor
H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program prepares for the school year
By Mary Dallao
(August 2019) Every year on the first day of school, the students at H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program have a tradition. Together, members of the senior class form a huge tunnel that all the younger students must run through. It's the older students' way of extending a warm welcome. Come September, this special institution will join the Rosslyn community, where they will be welcomed into a world much different from their former home on Vacation Lane in North Arlington. Some traditions, such as the first-day tunnel, they will keep. Others may have to change, to be replaced by new ones they establish here in Rosslyn.
Soon, high school and middle school students will make their way into neighborhood lunch spots and public spaces. They'll ride the buses and Metro. How will this coming together work—the blending of a largely adult, professional culture with a younger generation accustomed to having a suburban campus with athletic fields, lawns and a spacious parking lot?
H-B Woodlawn Principal Casey Robinson talks with the Rosslyn BID from the school's temporary offices at Key Elementary. The secondary program will move to The Heights, a brand-new building in Upper Rosslyn, this fall.
Casey Robinson, principal of H-B Woodlawn, has given this a lot of thought. Yes, the move will be a change, but it's a change that presents opportunities for both the neighborhood and the school. She stresses that, no matter where it is located, H-B Woodlawn is a family. It's the people who make it what it is.
"Family" is not a typical descriptor for a public school in a densely populated area, but H-B Woodlawn is anything but typical. Founded in 1971, it's an alternative secondary program for students in grades 6-12 that provides them with more control over their education than traditional comprehensive schools permit. The school's philosophy revolves around three pillars: Caring Community, Self-Governance and Self-Directed Learning. Students are allowed more choices and freedom than in a more traditional educational environment, and this freedom increases as they progress through the grades and show themselves worthy of greater trust. For instance, students have more say in the classes they take, choosing courses that interest them most. Older students enjoy the advantages of an "open campus," meaning that they are allowed to leave school throughout the day when they do not have classes scheduled.
H-B Woodlawn's students live all over the county. They apply for admission and are accepted through a lottery system. The school is small and in great demand. A typical comprehensive Arlington high school has an average class size of about 500 students. At H-B Woodlawn, each graduating class has about 100, and the entire student body is composed of just 725 students. Another unique aspect of the school: Everyone on faculty, including school administrators and even Principal Robinson, teaches a class.
Robinson has been principal since 2015 and was a teacher and assistant principal before that. Her relationship with the school began in 1989 as a seventh grader.
"I've spent more than half my life here," she says.
Robinson says she briefly worked in education policy before accepting a social studies teaching job at H-B Woodlawn from the former principal, who recruited her the weekend before Labor Day. She figured she'd do if for a year and then go back to education policy, but sixteen years later, she's still there.
"I never thought I wanted to be a teacher but doors opened for me that allowed that to happen," she says. "I'm fortunate to have a job that I love, and I'm excited to go to work every day. I encourage my students to keep an open mind. They should keep working until they find something that they love doing."
So what opportunities does Robinson see when the school moves to Rosslyn?
H-B Woodlawn staff meet over the summer in the Key Elementary School Library.
For one, she loves Rosslyn's accessibility and sees it as one of the biggest assets of their new location. Field trips to Smithsonian museums will become much easier, no longer requiring school buses and entire days. The neighborhood itself could become an extension of their campus. She sees opportunities for internships and partnerships with Rosslyn businesses that can benefit both companies and students. Robinson has also met with civic association leaders and discussed ways students can help the community, possibly by providing volunteer tech support for residents. Then, there's the school's robust music and performing arts program. Their performances attract audiences of up to 400 people: These are people who might want to grab dinner from a Rosslyn restaurant beforehand. And neighborhood residents might appreciate the chance to walk to a performance featuring up-and-coming youthful talents.
Faculty and staff moved in on August 19, and students followed a couple weeks later. It will take some time to settle into their new space and new routine, but the staff and students are trying to embrace the change. When the first school buses arrive the morning of September 3, they'll bring with them not just hundreds of new faces, but also a youthful presence that's eager to get out and explore. For Rosslyn—a place that's constantly evolving into a more vibrant, mixed-use community—it promises to be a great day.
H-B Woodlawn Assistant Principal Graham McBride, Principal Casey Robinson and Building Manager Daniel Degracia look at plans for the new H-B Woodlawn building at The Heights.
Photo at top: Members of the H-B Woodlawn team getting ready to move into their new space in Rosslyn from their temporary offices at Key Elementary are, left to right, Principal Casey Robinson, School Finance Officer Kathy Funes, Chorus Teacher Bill Podolski, World Geography Teacher Eleanor Reed, Assistant Principal Kate Seche and Guidance Secretary Fatima Posada-Bellaz.