Makerspace: Technology and Creativity

One of the exciting additions to our school last year was an area of the library called the Makerspace, which is a laboratory and technology center for constructing physical objects. This has been described as “DIY meets education.” It is a “workshop space” that provides students with a variety of different materials, which can act as “provocation for inquiry,” and various technological tools, with which they can invent. The space, curated by science teachers Ms. Dobler and Ms. Shapiro and librarian Ms. Hamm, features a variety of tools and kits, including Spheros, Arduino electronics kits, Legos, and a 3D Pinter.

Last year, the Makerspace was housed exclusively in the library. This year, students and teachers may access the supplies and tools from a mobile Makerspace cart. Students may use these items to design products for the science fair, explore concepts in the Robotics elective, or to complete projects in a variety of different disciplines. Before break, students used the Makerspace to decorate the hallways for the holiday season, using copper tape, lights, and art supplies to create cards and origami decorations.

The 3D printer has been an exciting addition for several students and is probably the highlight of the Makerspace. Students have used it to create plastic strands, called filament, and mold them into 3D designs.

A 10th grade student, Miles Tiller, was named earlier this year as an intern for the Makerspace program. Called a “Maketern,” he assists students in using the materials for their classes or to explore personal interests. He is also one of a small core team of students who has also helped repair broken supplies and order new parts to keep the materials and tools working well.

For the teachers and students who use the Makerspace, it is exciting not just to have this dynamic technology, but to be using our library as a place for creativity and production. The library in many ways is one of the most dynamic and actively used spaces in our school, and we are thrilled to have it as a space for great young minds to meet, discuss, analyze, build, and solve problems.



MLK and Service

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life and legacy we celebrate a week from Monday, believed in a nation of freedom and justice for all. He encouraged all citizens to live up to the purpose and potential of America by applying the principles of nonviolence to make this country a better place in which to live. How do we create the beloved community of which Dr. King dreamed? We engage in community action that helps solve social problems. We set aside our needs and personal ambitions, even if only for a short period of time, so that we may serve. That service may meet a tangible need, or it may meet a need of the spirit. But we hope that January 21st will not just be a day to sleep in, binge watch or tune out. Rather, we trust that families will commit to participating in projects that will strengthen communities, empower individuals, bridge barriers, and create solutions.

As our partial government shutdown enters its third week, students in many of their classes have been discussing the stalemate in Washington and the direct impact this is having on their lives. Some of them have talked about an important lesson that they have learned from all of this: we need each other. And the more that we look out for each other, the better and stronger we are together. From cleaning up a street to reading to shut-in seniors to teaching kids at a soccer clinic, we can enhance our own lives by making things better where we work, live and play. A strong community with a high quality of life means safer, healthier lives for us and those around us.

There are practical payoffs to volunteering as well. Decreasing the risk of depression, instilling a sense of purpose, providing opportunities to learn valuable skills, allowing participants to be mentally and physically active, and reducing stress levels are all cited in the research as some of the benefits. Individuals who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who do not, even when controlling for age, gender and physical health. Doing service with others is a great way to build trust and strengthen relationships. And those who engage in meaningful service activities enjoy a positive feeling sometimes referred to as “helper’s high.”

Whether you participate in one or more of the school-sponsored activities or you opt to do something else, we hope that each family will engage in meaningful community action during the upcoming Schoolwide Community Service Day. For ideas, please visit the National Service site. Also, see below for more information about what will be happening at Washington Latin on the 21st



Athletics at Latin

Athletic training was essential to the Ancient Greek identity. Athletics were viewed as both a preparation for military service and athletic competition, and a way to show off physical prowess. At Washington Latin, we believe that athletics play an important role in developing a well-rounded person. Besides promoting physical fitness, participating in athletics can foster positive mental health, enhance social skills and nurture self-discipline, patience, persistence and resilience.

This year, our athletic department is capably managed by Mr. Bob Eleby-El and his brand new assistant director, Ms. JerBria Smith.  Mr. Eleby-El has worn many hats at Washington Latin as a basketball coach, Assistant Principal for Student Life and business manager. In his new role, as Athletic Director, he is doing what he has long wanted to do: apply the skills learned while earning a BA in Sports Management and an MBA to help to build a program that is comprehensive, inclusive, competitive and sustainable. Drawing on his love of teaching, his rapport with students, strong relationships with parents and the respect he commands from the faculty and educators at peer institutions, he is working to establish a program marked by integrity, transparency, innovation and excellence.

We are delighted to welcome home Ms. Smith, who was a member of the second graduating class of Washington Latin onto our faculty this year. She graduated from Barton College in North Carolina. During her academic career, Ms. Smith was named to The National Junior College Athletic Association Women’s Basketball All American Third Team, representing the top players in the country at the Division III level. She was also named to the First Team All-Region team and Second Team All-Conference.  She earned her bachelor’s degree in Health Promotion in 2017. Last year she was a physical education teacher at a middle school in Maryland and coached at that school and a DC high school.

Working together, Mr. Eleby-El and Ms. Smith have helped lead students to a strong fall season, featuring outstanding performances in soccer, volleyball, and cross country. This winter, they are working to further develop our newer sports options, including Ms. Kolb’s new swim team (see details below on the first meet). They are working to support our students, coaches, and athletic program by helping with skills, organization, and academic and social support. This twosome makes a powerful team, and, under their guidance, we have high hopes for the future of our athletic program.



DC School Report Card

This morning, the District of Columbia unveiled a new DC School Report Card, an interactive website for parents and families with common information about all public schools in our city, both DC Public Schools and charter schools. The Report Card site includes profiles for each school with data and information about academics, school environment, teacher information, school programming, and more.

The stated goal of the DC School Report Card is to “provide transparent and accessible information to parents and families in the District, all in one place.” Included on the site is each school’s rating on the new School Transparency and Reporting (STAR) Framework. Each school receives a one- through five-star rating based on various information, from attendance to graduation rates to PARCC score growth.

The report card, STAR Framework, and “user-friendly” website are all requirements under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law in December, 2015. The work to meet the legal requirements was led by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), DC’s state education agency, with feedback from parents, educators and community members.

The report card is designed to offer additional ways for parents and community members to engage with schools. You can access the data and information for Washington Latin by visiting There are separate profiles for our middle school, which received a four-star rating and our upper school, which received a five-star rating. There are some mistakes that we observed in reviewing our school profile and we are hoping to address these with OSSE. Still, we are proud of this external recognition of the fine work that we are doing on behalf of our students. Washington Latin is one of six high schools in the city earning a five-star rating and the only five-star school in Ward 4.

The report card does reveal areas for further work for our school. These are areas already receiving attention from our leadership team. We look forward to providing updates on the initiatives we have put in place to make progress. If you have questions, concerns or suggestions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.




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.