The 74 Million features Washington Latin and Classical Education

This story was produced by The 74, a non-profit, independent news organization focused on education in America.

Amid the Pandemic, a Classical Education Boom: What if the Next Big School Trend Is 2,500 Years Old?

“I want to teach you something that I bet nobody in your house knows.”

Diana Smith stands at the head of a cluttered classroom at Washington Latin Public Charter School. The lights are dimmed, and projected on the wall behind is one of the most famous images in European art, Raphael’s The School of Athens, which acts as the anchor for today’s lesson in art, history and philosophy.

On a handheld whiteboard, Smith jots a word that perhaps 1 in 10,000 adults could define: “Aetiology,” the study of causes and origins. Not contenting herself with one stumper, she quickly adds more SAT material below it, this time written in Greek letters: “Logos.” Coaxing the kids to recite them with her, she wonders aloud what they could mean.

If the prompt is a bit advanced for 10-year-olds, no one seems fazed. In fact, through the rest of the 80-minute period, Smith’s students gamely follow along as she traipses through more of the antiquarian lexicon, sometimes gesturing toward the image of an early modern masterpiece that decorated the walls of the Vatican for over 500 years. The tutorial, part of the school’s foundational coursework for young pupils, is a concentrated dose of a pedagogy that Smith has spent much of her career refining.

Washington Latin’s approach to K–12 schooling comes from the somewhat esoteric world of classical education, a movement dedicated to reviving liberal arts instruction as it was understood by the men (and one woman) depicted in The School of Athens: Socrates, Aristotle, Diogenes, Pythagoras and Archimedes. After decades building schools and writing curricula in the parochial and homeschool sectors, its most ardent proponents can sound like evangelists for a long-abandoned faith, laying a heavy emphasis on dead languages and peppering their own speech with words like “quadrivium.”

But the leading minds in classical education are fixated by the future as much as the past. Pitching a humanistic alternative to both progressive and state-sponsored school reform efforts, established players like the southwestern Great Hearts network and Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School Initiative are attracting more families and diversifying their offerings. With millions of students leaving traditional public schools since the beginning of the pandemic, classical education providers are attempting to step into the breach with not only a content-rich model, but also a worldview extending deep into the foundations of (another phrase that gets used frequently) Western civilization.

Those efforts have met with early, if somewhat controversial, success in states like Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has welcomed the arrival of seven Hillsdale-affiliated charters and is reportedly weighing the adoption of a classically oriented college admissions test as an alternative to the SAT.

The question is whether the opportunity for growth can be seized, or if the movement’s internal differences, religious as well as political, are too cacophonous to allow for anything but niche appeal. Some within the field worry that “classical” might become a byword for “conservative,” particularly as a growing number of activists and families have grown leery of public schools’ teaching of subjects like race, gender and sexuality. Others believe that classical education can’t fully deliver on its potential without religion at its core.

A public charter, Washington Latin sits at the center of some of these debates. It is a deliberately small program, its roughly 900 students divided into average class sizes of 18 in middle school and 15 in high school. Unlike some of the better-known actors in the classical charter world, it hasn’t laid plans for exponential expansion in the coming years, and its leadership acknowledges that its attraction to families in the nation’s capital rests more with its demographic diversity and strong academics than its classical orientation.

At the same time, the school is growing. After a years-long negotiation with district officials, its second campus opened last fall in a provisional space about a mile south of Catholic University. Though a more permanent site has already been selected nearby, Smith teaches for the moment in a former warehouse with few windows. The longtime Washington Latin principal now serves as its head of classical education, shuttling between campuses to observe and occasionally lead seminars like this one, which moves from ancient mythology to medieval history and back.

Noting that Raphael lived and worked around 1500, roughly 2,000 years after his Hellenistic subjects passed from the scene, Smith asks the significance of the term “renaissance,” derived from the Latin word for birth. A 10-year-old named Alice thrusts her hand up.

“It means to be born again, but it’s not just talking about people,” she offered. “It’s talking about ideas or beliefs from the past being used again. It’s the rebirth of an era, into the modern day.”

‘We can’t get away from Plato and Aristotle’

The ascendance of classical education in the 2020s is itself a tale of rebirth.

What properly qualifies as “classical” instruction is somewhat contested, but the term generally refers to the educational strategies descended from the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome. In those rigidly ordered societies, the honing of the mind was seen as a pursuit for the sons of prominent families. The masses — women, the poor, vast populaions of slaves — received little or nothing in the way of formal schooling.

It was the teachers of antiquity who laid the foundations of Western thought: Socrates, sentenced to death for corrupting the youth of Athens; Plato, whose Republic provided the quintessential vision of justice for both man and the state; and Aristotle, tutor to Alexander the Great. In their explorations of the nature of existence and virtue, all three inspired not only the intellectual awakening of their own age, but also those of the early Christian period, the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment.

“If we live in the West, which we do, we can’t get away from Plato and Aristotle,” said Susan Wise Bauer, a publisher and homeschooling advocate who has written widely on theories of classical instruction.

With the development of mass education in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, some felt that cultural inheritance, and the pedagogy necessary to transmit it to future generations, were being abandoned.

In a 1947 essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” the British author Dorothy Sayers remarked on the paradox of widespread literacy being accompanied by the rise of propaganda and advertising, the seeming inability of the public to distinguish truth from misinformation, and what she identified as the chief failure of modern schooling: “Although we often succeed in teaching our pupils ‘subjects,’ we fail lamentably…in teaching them how to think.”

To reverse this confusion, she argued, educators needed to rediscover the educational program pioneered in the ancient world and ubiquitous in European schooling for a thousand years: the trivium, a three-part sequence of grammar, logic and rhetoric.

The trivium — along with the similarly dusty-sounding “quadrivium” of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy — makes up what were historically known as the liberal arts, and form much of the substance of the revived classical education movement. To the thousands of families and teachers drawn to it, the antique origins of the liberal arts represent a sturdier basis of learning than the progression of newfangled interventions and orthodoxies that have emerged in recent decades.

“We’re starting to see, parents and educators alike, that we need to return to a better way of doing things,” said Kathleen O’Toole, the assistant provost for K–12 education at Michigan’s Hillsdale College, which has launched or partnered with dozens of schools around the United States. “We need to stop trying to innovate, stop trying to experiment when it comes to K–12; we think the answer lies in some sort of return.”

A lack of ‘core knowledge’

As in the 1940s and ‘50s, part of the dissatisfaction with mainstream public schooling arises from the perception that much of what is taught in classrooms lacks spark and rigor, leading to a disenchantment with learning and a devaluing of the arts and humanities.

The most obvious manifestation, critics say, can be seen in higher education, where federal data indicate that the number of degrees awarded in languages, literature, history, philosophy, and religion have plummeted in the last two decades. But even among younger students, disturbing signs are emerging. By their own admission, American kids are reading for pleasure at the lowest levels since the 1980s, and in an echo of Sayers’s warning, at least one study has shown that the vast majority of high schoolers have only a slipshod sense of media literacy.

Jeremy Wayne Tate is a classical education proponent and entrepreneur who founded the Classic Learning Test, an alternative to the SAT that has caught on with Christian classical universities and recently gained the attention of DeSantis in Florida. Despite mainstream American schooling’s overwhelming focus on the cultivation of skills for college and career, he argued, huge numbers of students graduate in a state of “educational neglect.”

“They spend 12 years and graduate without any serious core knowledge,” Tate said. “They don’t have knowledge of the great books and the classics, but they don’t have any vocational skills either. You almost want to say, ‘Do one of these things!’”

At Washington Latin, the aim is to combine a classical course of study with a grounding in and acceptance of the contemporary — or, as the institutional motto puts it, “a classical education for the modern world.”

All students take at least three levels of Latin, with an additional option of Greek. But the school also requires credits in modern languages like French, Mandarin, and Arabic. Courses in robotics and computer science accompany robust helpings of world history and literature. The high school’s summer reading list highlights texts from a diverse array of authors past and present — including Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Giveboth of which have drawn complaints from parents in other states.

Particularly for children in younger grades, the classical bent can veer more toward the conceptual. In an elementary math exercise, for example, students are asked to design a poster or comic strip illustrating fractions. At adjoining desks, 10-year-olds Justice and Maddy work on an eight-panel story of a group of friends dividing three cookies.

After only a few months attending their new school, which opened exclusively to fifth- and sixth-graders in September, they have largely adjusted to its structure and routines. Justice compares the experience to that of her last school, a local Montessori whose self-directed ethos emphasized “finding yourself and doing your own thing.”

“We learned a lot too, but we usually started drawing and doing funner” — she quickly corrects herself — “more fun things. So this is more of a straight education instead of just doing what you want, when you want. It’s a bit of a transition not being able to, like, crochet during the lesson.”

‘Explosive’ demand

Judging from local interest, Washington Latin’s approach and offerings are extremely popular. Since the school, like many charters, is oversubscribed, it runs a lottery to determine admissions; recent data from the school district show that nearly 1,100 students are currently on the waitlist for seats at its original middle school campus.

That partially reflects the school’s enviable academic results. On district-wide standardized tests last year, 58 percent of Washington Latin middle and high schoolers performed at or above grade level in English, compared with 30 percent of D.C. students overall. Forty-seven percent of its middle schoolers, and 29 percent of high schoolers, scored at or above grade level in math, compared with just 19 percent of Washingtonians in those grades.

But its strength in enrollment mirrors the rest of the classical education space, which has likewise seen what Tate of the Classical Learning Test called an “explosive” surge in demand in recent years.

Much of it has come in the parochial sector. According to the Association for Classical Christian Schools, an organization that offers training and accreditation to Protestant classical academies, its membership now stands at over 400 schools enrolling between 60,000 and 70,000 students; those figures appear to have leapt by as much as 50 percent over the last half-decade.

Catholic institutions are making their own strides. Since Chesterton Academy opened in Minnesota in 2008, the “joyfully Catholic, classical high school” has spawned 43 successors across the United States, Canada, Italy, and even Iraq. In the fall of 2021, the Archdiocese of Boston opened the Lumen Verum Academy — its first new Catholic school in a half-century — which features a classical curriculum and operates on a “blended learning” schedule.

But nowhere is the expansion of the classical footprint more noticeable, or more controversial, than in the charter sector. Great Hearts, which already operates over 30 charter schools across Arizona and Texas, will soon open new campuses in Louisiana and Florida and launch a national, online academy this fall. In a recently published interview with education commentator Rick Hess, CEO Jay Heiler announced plans to leverage Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarships Account program to launch “private schools with church communities” in that state.

The other major entity in classical charters is Hillsdale’s Barney Charter School Initiative, which made national waves in 2022 by applying to open three charters in Tennessee at the invitation of Republican Gov. Bill Lee. Hillsdale gained prominence during the Trump administration as a popular speaking venue for conservatives; its president, Larry Arnn, led President Trump’s commission to create a “patriotic” U.S. history curriculum as an alternative to the 1619 Project.

Though the partnership between Tennessee and the Barney Initiative was meant to eventually bring 50 Hillsdale-affiliated charters to the state, the proposal came under fire after Arnn was unwittingly recorded opining that public school teachers are trained “in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.”

Criticisms of the phonebook-sized “1776 Curriculum” added additional strain, with critics citing questionable ideological pronouncements embedded in its lessons (the Civil Rights Movement was “almost immediately turned into programs that ran counter to the lofty ideals of the Founders,” one passage read). With bipartisan detractors growing louder by the week, the initial charter proposals were withdrawn last fall.

By the middle of last year, suspicious progressives were increasingly associating classical education with the political Right. Notably, however, figures within the private wing of the movement have also expressed some skepticism of how the moral instruction of classical education could be applied in a charter school. David Goodwin, head of the Association of Classical Christian Schools, argued that true classical instruction “cannot exist without a transcendental.”

“My judgment is that Barney largely does that with the Constitution and the American Declaration — what they’re trying to do is use the Bible as maybe a supporting document for Americanism.”

O’Toole, who founded and led a classical charter in Texas before her stint at Hillsdale, said that while there were “fundamental questions about divinity…that we are not going to take up in a direct way” with students,” she preferred the charter environment to that of an independent school and didn’t “see it as a hindrance at all that we don’t talk about religion.”

Washington Latin’s Smith, a Christian, argued that the study of “timeless truths” doesn’t require sacred underpinnings; Socrates and Plato, to take obvious examples, were not Christian or even monotheistic, and their philosophical explorations have influenced secular as well as religious systems of thought.

“I get as close as I can to talking about schooling in a religious way without being religious, because it’s a public school,” she said. “But it’s holy work that we’re doing, and if you’re in the school, you’ll get a feeling of the transcendent — a feeling of inspiration.”

Fears of partisanship

The divides within the movement are a long way from becoming all-out fissures — in fact, most parents still aren’t aware of their existence.

But signs of its increasing prominence are stoking worries that, as with seemingly everything in American life, polarization will eventually discover classical education. Tate, a vocal cheerleader for school choice who has called classical schools a necessary corrective to what he views as the leftward drift of public schools, said he was “concerned” that partisanship might come to overwhelm their appeal.

“As a conservative, I don’t want to see this movement politically hijacked. But there are aspects of it that are threatening to the progressive establishment.”

Many in the national press got their first exposure to classical education in January, when DeSantis unveiled a controversial plan to shake up the leadership at the New College of Florida, viewed locally as one of the state’s most progressive universities. The administration’s hope, his chief of staff told the press, was to transform it into a classical institution akin to a “Hillsdale of the South.”

Wise Bauer, the homeschooling author, grouped DeSantis with other conservative actors aiming to “co-opt” the branding of classical education as a means of appealing to right-wing instincts of what should be taught and excluded from school curricula.

“What I see right now is this big battleground where some people — and I would put Ron DeSantis in this category — use ‘classical education’ without reference to the process, but only in reference to past thinkers who were white and European,” Bauer said.

For her own part, Smith contrasts the outlook of her school with those of more conservative classical Christian and public charter programs, which “tend to treat the modern world as a problem that needs solving.” The building in which she stands, Washington Latin’s newly opened Anna Julia Cooper Campus, takes its name from a pioneering African American educator and classicist who made her home in Washington, not Thebes or Athens.

“We don’t have the same attitude towards the time period that people have been born into,” she continues. “What we’re trying to do is bring the wisdom, the curriculum, and the pedagogical approach of the Socratic seminar to a public school audience.”

The school’s climate clearly differs from that of progressive icons like Montessori, but also from many of its famous counterparts in the charter sector. For the most part, students come and go as they please without falling into silent transitions through the hallways. During some class periods, they are allowed to sit in chairs or on the floor. Smith describes their freedom of movement as reflecting the liberal embrace of individual autonomy, even in the case of elementary schoolers.

As if to illustrate the point, several classrooms soon empty into a jumbled mass of pre-adolescent energy, breaking for a 20-minute interval between periods. About two dozen kids are soon sitting on the stairs of the building’s main foyer, chatting or playing quick rounds of chess.

Two friends, Alex and Nikolas, practice bringing out their knights on a linoleum board while entertaining the question of whether even reigning World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen could outplay a computer. Likely not, they conclude; in this realm, human genius has yielded to the heights of mechanical proficiency.

Soon after, finishing their own game, they scuttle back to their next encounter with the ages.



Washington Post: Latin’s Wrestling Team

Zemen Sium leads Washington Latin to dominant DCSAA wrestling title

Washington Latin entered this season with much of its roster consisting of first-year wrestlers. A notable exception: Zemen Sium, last year’s 126-pound D.C. champion who had completed an undefeated season.

Early last summer, Sium bent his knee backward while practicing. He quickly recovered but later tore his left ulnar collateral ligament, which kept him sidelined for three months. He sought answers about dealing with injuries from Helen Maroulis, a Magruder alum and Olympic gold medalist.

“She said, ‘It’s sad, but after injuries, that’s when people show their biggest progression,’ ” Sium recalled. “I kind of held to that … and was hoping and praying I could make it to the state championships without another injury.”

Sium, who brought the program its first individual title last year, easily pinned Bell’s Maycol Olivares in the 126-pound bout of the D.C. State Athletic Association championships Saturday at St. Albans, where he was voted most outstanding wrestler for the second straight year. It capped a 16-1 senior year — he lost his first match of the season — and an even bigger achievement for the young program.

With 156 points, the Lions pulled away from Jackson-Reed (133) for the team title at a meet featuring eight public and charter schools.

The independent schools held their own championships simultaneously at Gonzaga, which the Eagles won by more than 100 points. To qualify for next week’s National Preps in Upper Marlboro, D.C. private schools could not compete in their state championships.

“That was a major shortcoming of this year in the wrestling season and that we hope to fix by next year,” said Washington Latin Coach Rickey Torrence, who expressed the desire to build his program to the point where it can consistently compete against programs such as Gonzaga.

The D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association had hosted its first wrestling championships in 30 years Tuesday; it featured all of the schools at Saturday’s meet, except Latin. The Tigers (188 points) beat host H.D. Woodson (184) and Bell (156) to claim that title.

In 2018, Max Meltzer, chairman of Beat the Streets D.C., realized that Wilson, now known as Jackson-Reed, was only allowed to compete with the D.C. private schools in their state championships because it operated as a club program. A Silver Spring native who became a state champion at Bullis, Meltzer didn’t see a reason a sport as simple as wrestling hadn’t been in public schools for so long and led efforts to bring the sport back.

“This is a great, crowning achievement to have our first city championship, but there’s more work to be done,” Meltzer said. “We can have more kids here, more programs; we’re constantly figuring out how to improve the product here and impact more kids.”

Washington Latin freshmen Jackson Trinca (106 pounds) and Preston Olander (132) joined Sium atop the podium Saturday. Olander has been competing at the club level since he was 4 and became practice partners with Sium.

“He’s a bit better than me,” Olander said. “If you want to improve, you’ve always got to be wrestling people better than you. That’s why Zemen has been so great.”

Other champions include Jamari Myers (H.D. Woodson), Duncan Stadler (Jackson-Reed), Kavon Hill (Bell), Brayden Black (Jackson-Reed), Alexander Ouzts (Jackson-Reed), Kenai Rivera (Bell), Jesse Corn (Jackson-Reed), Samuel Lusinga (H.D. Woodson), Casey Wood (Jackson-Reed), Randy Fleming (Dunbar) and Perryellis Spriggs (Dunbar).

Washington Post: Fly Zyah Rapper

Read this Washington Post story about Cooper Campus sixth grader, Zyah Brown!

At age 11, D.C. rapper Fly Zyah is a powerful voice for social justice

ly Zyah walked onto the stage in her purple, metallic Doc Martens and the crowd cheered.

“Are y’all ready to have some fun?!” she asked the audience. A woman yelled in response: “Let’s go, Fly Zyah!”

Sixth-grader Zyah Brown was the youngest artist onstage for the Kennedy Center’s “Sounds of the DMV: Hip Hop Showcase” this spring. Although the four other performers that night were adults, Zyah knew she could hold her own.

The microphone sat easily in her hand as she began rapping in front of a silhouette of herself striking her signature pose: Elbows bent, fingers pointing to her two Afro puffs.

“Young, Black and Gifted

Flow so exquisite

Repping D.C. so I’m similar to the Mystics

You want it, come and get it

Break bread, let’s split it

Hustle in my blood, the marathon’s never finished.”

— Fly Zyah

When Zyah tries to make sense of the world — of why a police officer would kneel on George Floyd’s neck, why so many people died of the coronavirus, why police pushed her family and friends — she pulls out her phone, opens the notes app and starts writing lyrics.

At only 11 years old, Zyah is able to sort through complex feelings and translate them into gripping lyrics that speak for a generation of children grappling with the same issues. This thoughtful perspective has resonated beyond her neighborhood, and even the city, providing a window for adults into how it feels to be a child growing up right now.

Zyah has become a fixture in the D.C. music and social justice scenes. Her songs about racism and police violence — and Black joy and Black girlhood — earned her a spot on a list of the Kennedy Center Next 50 cultural leaders. She has performed at the Universal Hip Hop Museum in the Bronx, the Apollo Theater in Manhattan, her school’s winter formal and on flatbed go-go trucks at D.C. protests. She also wrote a play called “Legend” that she hopes to be performing within a year.

“She could have just been another little Black girl in D.C., because she does have the odds against her, but she refused to accept the odds,” said longtime local organizer Nee Nee Taylor. “She knows she’s a winner and she has a gift.”

Her parents manage her career, attending all of her shows and taking along her 6-year-old sister, Morghan, when they can. Her father wrote the lyrics for her debut song as a 2-year-old, “Peanut Butter Remix,” which was set to the beat of “Truffle Butter,” by Nicki Minaj, Drake and Lil Wayne. By the time Zyah was in the first grade, she was writing her own songs, her mother said.

In school, Zyah grew to love Latin class and found that learning new words and phrases expanded her English vocabulary and improved her songwriting. When she is deep into writing lyrics and stumped, she turns to RhymeZone, a website where she can input a word and see a list of rhymes, synonyms, antonyms, similar sounding words and more.

But her favorite class is civics, she said, referring to herself as a “civics class fanatic.” She’s her homeroom president at the Washington Latin Public Charter School, and she plans to be the actual president — of the United States — one day. “We’re still following old White men’s rules,” said Zyah, who lives with her family in Northeast Washington. “I don’t really like the fact that we’re still going off of that … when we have all these resources to make the world a better place.”  She watches the news with her parents, who try to answer her questions with honesty. During the height of the pandemic, she started asking, “Why don’t some people like Black people?” Those questions, and her parents’ answers, fuel her music.

“The kids that kinda look like me
They life is sped up
Don’t fall for the okey doke tricks
That’s just a set up
You want it, go get it
It’s yours, don’t ever give up
For my ancestors who shed blood and fought back their masters
Stopping that cycle, ending those chapters.”
— Fly Zyah

‘He can’t breathe’
Her parents knew Zyah would see the video. They decided she should watch it at home, sitting next to them.

As she processed the news clips showing a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, killing him, Zyah cried. “Why would somebody do that to somebody else?” her mother, Danielle Champ, 40, recalled Zyah asking.

What she saw left Zyah wondering whether that meant something so terrible could happen to her, her family or someone she knows.

Yes, they told her, it could.

“It made me feel differently about people in the world,” Zyah said. “Everybody’s not as good as they seem. And everybody’s not, like, as friendly or as real as they seem.”

The family spent the summer of 2020 protesting throughout the streets of the nation’s capital to demand justice, reject racism and call for a better future. Soon, Zyah was performing widely in the city.

Organizers requested that she come to rallies. There, she rapped songs she had written just weeks or days before, moved by the people she met who also were standing up against police brutality.

Zyah was 8 going on 9 at the time, and as she saw how her words inspired people — making them cheer and smile — she gained confidence. The Fly in her stage name stands for “First Love Yourself,” and she tries to bring that positive, caring outlook to all her songs, even those about painful topics.

On election night 2020 at Black Lives Matter Plaza, near the White House, Zyah was to perform on a go-go truck. But before her set, she and her parents said, police started shoving the crowd.

Her father, Ron Brown, now 45, feared that his children would be hurt. Zyah heard people screaming and crying and realized she and her sister were crying, too. In the chaos, she saw her father get “trampled” to the ground by officers. “Then it just kind of hit me what was going on,” she said, “and what the world was really like.”

Brown said he was taken to the police precinct before being released. Any charges or citations were dismissed, he said. When asked about this occurrence, D.C. police responded with an incident report that did not identify Brown but said a person was arrested for resisting arrest, crossing a police line and inciting violence — all of which Brown denied.

Once things had settled down, Zyah had to decide: Would she still perform? Ultimately, she wanted to rap her song “Generation Speaks.”

“If you could see what I see
People screaming, he can’t breathe
Got his knee on his neck while they watching him plead
Should’ve did the right thing and just let him leave
Now we marching in the streets
Just us, no peace.”
— Fly Zyah

When she got home, she started writing a song inspired by what had happened that day. How it felt watching police take her father, and her fear of what the officers would do next. She wrote about the city, her home and how it felt to be let down. She called the song “Dear D.C.”

“I always try to represent
But the city don’t represent me
I try to be the best
But you fail to see what’s in me.”
— Fly Zyah

‘Conquer the world lil sis’
Zyah has been impressing the adults in the room for most of her life.

Oscar winning actress Viola Davis has shared a video of Zyah rapping on her Instagram page with the caption: “This made me cry!!! Conquer the world lil sis’. YOU are our hope @fly.zyah 👊🏿🙏🏿💛💛🔥🔥.” In February 2020, the rapper Rapsody invited then-8-year-old Zyah onstage at the Fillmore in Silver Spring, Md.

“There’s a young girl by the name of Zyah who wants to come and spit some. Is that all right with y’all, D.C.?” Rapsody asked the cheering crowd. “She rap 200 times better than I did at her age.”

Her fans and supporters say her lyrics are infused with wisdom about the world and also her inherent innocence. After all, she is still a kid who loves to create slime and believes that wearing her pajamas inside out and putting a spoon under her pillow can summon snow.

Her biggest dream is making sure everyone has a place to live. “I want to help every single homeless person in the world, if I can,” she said. She wants animals to have a home, too. Then, she said, she would like to “stop the police from killing and hurting us. … Just leave us alone, honestly.”

At the Kennedy Center event, everyone seemed to know who Zyah was. They sought out the 5-foot-3 girl moving in a sea of towering grown-ups. The executive director of the D.C. chapter at the Recording Academy came over to give Zyah’s mother a business card.

Toward the front of the audience sat Carissma McGee, a 22-year-old Howard University student who first saw Zyah during the 2020 racial justice protests and has followed her life and career on Instagram since then.

When Zyah walked by her seat before the show, McGee reached out and gave her a hug.

“I’m so excited to see you today!” she told Zyah. “I came just for you!”

Toward the end of her 12-minute set, Zyah got to her most popular song, the one everyone wanted to hear. And she could feel that the crowd was with her. When she waved her hand high above her head, they waved theirs, too.

She was serious while rapping a verse about a harrowing experience her family had with police. When she got to the chorus, a smile slipped onto her face as she left the crowd with a message: “Dear D.C., I hope you listen to me.”

Alice Crites contributed to this report.

DCist Coverage of COVID in DC Schools (featuring Ms. Fleming)

Who Should Provide Care For Students With COVID Symptoms In D.C. Schools?

SEP 16, 4:08 PM

Martita Fleming keeps things running at Washington Latin Public Charter School. As director of operations, her job encompasses a lot — she makes sure classes have textbooks, that lights stay on, and the copier is running.

Fleming’s responsibilities expanded further when Washington Latin fully reopened for in-person learning last month. She and a small team of school deans and teachers oversee coronavirus testing and screening of students, and they monitor students who are isolating.

In short, Fleming is managing the school’s COVID-19 response almost entirely without help from a school nurse.

“It’s definitely a lot of effort and hours,” she said.

That’s because school nurses hired by the city are not allowed to monitor or treat students exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, according to accounts from several school leaders. It has put administrators in the difficult position of deciding who should respond to students with symptoms inside their buildings. READ MORE

D.C. Sets Limits On Crowd Sizes At Graduation Ceremonies (Latin mentioned)

D.C. Sets Limits On Crowd Sizes At Graduation Ceremonies (Latin mentioned)

by Debbie Truong

April 8, 2021

Schools and universities may plan for in-person graduation ceremonies this spring as long as attendance sizes are limited and physical distancing is observed, Mayor Muriel Bowser said Thursday.

For outdoor ceremonies, pre-K to grade 12 schools, colleges, and universities must limit crowds to 25 percent of a venue’s capacity or 2,000 people, whichever is smaller, according to new guidance from D.C. Health.

Indoor ceremonies are limited to 25 percent of capacity or 250 people, whichever is smaller. After May 1, indoor gatherings may host up to 500 people if a venue does not reach more than one-fourth of its capacity.

The guidance comes as planning for spring commencement festivities across the District is well underway. Last academic year, many ceremonies were canceled, held online, postponed, or drastically modified because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This year, city health department officials set a number of strict guidelines, including requiring face masks, maintaining at least six feet distance between audience members, and restricting groups of guests to six people or fewer.