During the adolescent years, young people grapple with a variety of major social and emotional issues and need to develop a variety of competencies. These include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making and relationship skills. This is a time during which students work out their identities, establish autonomy, develop intimacy and define for themselves what it means to achieve and try to find opportunities for success. Competencies must be developed as students face social cruelty (sometimes in the form of bullying), peer pressure, social anxiety and more.

Washington Latin helps students navigate the challenges of adolescence in a variety of ways, including through our advisory program, health education classes and individual and small-group counseling. One of our newest initiatives, launched this year for students in 6th and 7th grades, is our Youth Empowerment Seminar. Twice a week, students participate in hands-on experiences designed to help them problem solve and make thoughtful decisions in challenging situations, grow their confidence, and withstand criticism and peer pressure. This is facilitated by English teacher, Joe Green and history teacher, Elaina Barroso.

Because early adolescents still do not have fully developed frontal lobes of their brain and it is hard for some pre-teens to understand consequences, the class highlights cause-effect relationships so students can better understand how decisions they make can impact their friends and the school community.  In the first quarter, the YES program discussed what it means to be part of a community and designed different acts of service to help benefit the Latin community or other communities in need. Students also evaluated the impact of social media.

The goal of this new student-centric program is to encourage students in a developmentally appropriate way to feel empowered and understand that they have agency to make thoughtful decisions. By teaching the skills involved in emotional intelligence, we hope to show students how to empathize with other people.

Through this program, students can select service programs like writing notes with positive messages and posting them around the school hallways and lockers, making sandwiches to distribute to people who are homeless or hungry, and organizing bake sales to raise funds for various causes throughout D.C. and beyond.

While this is becoming increasingly popular, the classical tradition has always been concerned with the education of the “whole child.” As such, we have long been committed to providing for our students dynamic and comprehensive learning experiences. YES is part of this effort.



Words Still Matter

Last week Ms. Smith discussed the origins of our school’s informal motto: “Words Matter.” This week, I’d like to build on what she wrote.

One of the critical indicators of students’ success in school, on standardized tests, and indeed, in life, is their vocabulary. To support vocabulary development, we teach Latin, the building block of so much of the English language. We also encourage reading and writing across the content areas, where students learn or reinforce basic vocabulary (tier one words), high-frequency words or words with multiple meaning (tier two) and subject related words (tier three). We also emphasize literacy through analysis, debate, and language instruction.

However, it is not just essential to encourage students to know many words. We believe words have the power to inform, provoke and inspire. We want words to move our students. So, we fill our hallways with quote boards that explore timeless themes. Want students to use their words wisely and productively. We give students numerous outlets for language use, from Model UN to the Debate Team, to school plays and the school newspaper and literary magazine (Quick commercial plug: Be sure to catch opening night of 12 Angry Jurors this evening, or one of the performances on Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon. The Music Man is coming in February!). Students also embrace a history of compelling writing by taking dictation and learning famous speeches in classes from English to history to Latin and World Languages. Our students take on leadership roles in clubs and assemblies to practice their public speaking skills as well.

We are also very much aware that the way we use our words matter when it comes to using language to educate, encourage, edify and embrace, rather than to debase, deceive, defame or deplore. As a result, this year we have launched a program to enhance social-emotional skills designed by teachers and administrators (more on that in my next Legenda letter) and our peer mediation program, run by Anna Laura Grant, who holds a graduate degree in Conflict Resolution. Our distinctive approach to addressing conflicts involves having in-depth discussions, working collaboratively with students and teachers to solve problems, and realizing that our ability to discuss reflectively helps us solve problems.

We know that in a time fraught with division and disillusionment, being able to use words to solve problems peacefully is one of the most important skills children and adults can learn. An ancient philosopher once wrote: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” This quote represents an ideal toward which we continue to work.



Words Matter (A Letter from Principal Smith)

Over the years, many of you have asked about the origin of our unofficial motto,“words matter.” This simple phrase strikes a chord with so many – and especially now in the current atmosphere of verbal virulence. The story of its origin is equally simple: the fact of the matter is that we are not quite sure how it started! In the summer of 2008, Martha Cutts, our former head of school, and I were
making our way through our endless to-do lists: 1) get a building; 2) design a logo; 3) write a high-school curriculum – easy tasks like those – and we realized that we needed a motto. We came up with “Discite, Servaturi,” (Learn, those who are about to serve), as the official statement on our crest. This motto underscores our belief that learning and stewardship are paired: A good steward must be educated, and an educated person must put learning to a good purpose.

But while our official motto does its official business, the phrase that has really stuck in our community is “words matter.” Martha and I were talking one day, no doubt about the above “to-do” list, and one of us said, “you know, words matter.” From that, we realized the multiple levels of meaning of that phrase for a classical school — and for two women who love languages and words, and who have spent a lifetime helping students see that they can wound and bless with what they say. We both started to use the phrase. It stuck, and people started to repeat it. A student made a poster for Mrs. Cutts with the words in big letters, a poster that still hangs in our school.

Words matter! How appropriate for a school that is trying to emphasize the importance of the liberal arts at a time when programs in the liberal arts are being cut everywhere! How appropriate for a school that requires more language instruction than any other school in the city! How appropriate for a classical school that aims to teach students to use their words well publicly, and to be able
to present, in the long history of rhetoricians, a clear, clean statement of their thoughts! How appropriate for a school that is trying to combat the technological McLanguage of the day, encouraging students instead to do justice to the ambiguity and nuance of their ideas in equally nuanced language! How appropriate for a school that is trying to help students curb their tongues and not fall prey to the verbal nastiness that seems to pervade our society! How appropriate for a school that believes, at its core, that we will begin to understand and appreciate one another when we begin to communicate.

Such a simple yet powerful phrase! May words matter for a long time to come!

Sincerely yours,


Other People’s Pigeons

Other People’s Pigeons

A team of intrepid Washington Latin students rescued a downed racing pigeon with the help of several teachers and students. With the help of Ms. Seid the team of young missing bird sleuths identified and contacted her owner who picked up the injured bird, which had been missing for about 10 days. The pigeon had joined a race from South Carolina to DC, a distance they can fly in about 7 hours. The pigeon was shot but will recover from her wounds.  The students were excited to see the pigeon returned to her rightful owner and to know she was in safe hands again.

Science Teachers Unite

Science Teachers Unite

Several middle school and upper school science teachers attended the National Science Teachers Association regional meeting in National Harbor. They visited workshops on climate change, Ecology, robotics, STEM, race in the science classroom, graphing, and more. Physics and robotics teachers Mr. Torrence and Ms. Shapiro attended, along with A.P. Biology teacher Ms. Amaechi. Fifth, sixth, and seventh grade science teachers Ms. Steplight, Ms. Dorsey, and Ms. Olney also participated.