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!
With election day looming next Tuesday, parents have a wonderful chance to turn local politics into a civics lesson for their children. If it is possible for you to take your students with you to the polling station, you should do so. Talk with your children about the candidates, the issues and the process.
Washington, D.C. offers an extensive early voting program, which allows residents to vote in any of the 8 wards, so people have the possibility to vote near work as well as near their homes. This might help explain why Washington, D.C. was one of the few districts in the country that had more than 50% of the population vote in the 2016 election. Early voting ends today. I voted last Sunday.
With a mayor’s race and some city council seats up for grabs, 2018 is an important year for local politics. While your children may hear more about national races, it is worthwhile to review for them the city government structure, so they understand how our city is governed. Also, with important nearby races for Governor in Maryland and senator in Virginia, you may want to consider taking your children to do Get Out the Vote work this weekend for local campaigns just outside the District. While children may feel that the lack of representation makes Washington, D.C. residents lack electoral power, there are still multiple ways for students to exercise their civic duties, and they may enjoy putting their rhetorical skills to use discussing upcoming races with people from Maryland and Virginia.
Politics is a natural means of discourse for graduates of Washington Latin because of our focus on public speaking, writing, and critical thinking. WLPCS Alumni have gotten involved in local politics both as an ANC Chair and as a political reporter for City Paper (see news blurbs below). Ms. Smith always reminds teachers to “teach the controversy,” so political discussions are often a part of a wide variety of our classes. Our community council helps student take part in a simulation of a city council, and our student journalists at Sumus Leones enjoy interviewing their peers about current events, from Supreme Court confirmations to civil liberties issues.
Last Saturday was a beautiful autumnal day to celebrate our Fall Festival with families and faculty members. From the squeals of delight, smiling faces, extended conversations and the amount of food consumed, I think it is safe to say that a great time was had by those who attended. Thank you to the parents who popped popcorn, assisted with grilling, baked pastries or supervised different activities and sporting events. This was our second year of offering flu shots and our first time conducting onsite voter registration. From the silly to the serious, we could not have done this without the leadership of the Parent-Faculty Association and a team of passionate parent volunteers.
Whether they attend PFA meetings, chaperone field trips, mentor students or provide access to internships and community service opportunities or bakes their favorite dish for a Parent-Teacher Conference Day, Washington Latin is graced with highly involved parents. Among the efforts to which many contribute time and energy is our annual Latin Pride campaign which also kicked off this past Saturday. This fundraiser, on which the school depends, to fund the PFA and close the gap in general operating expenses was founded by volunteers and continues to be powered by volunteers.
When I speak to Washington Latin parents, I am struck by two things: their gratitude for the hard work of the teachers and their interest in making this school the best it can be for all children, not just their own. We know that as a public charter school, it is more challenging to organize parents because we pull from all eight wards of the city, so it is not always easy to get to campus. This makes it even more challenging for parents who put the extra time in to attend meetings, to sew costumes for our theater productions, or offer up their homes for performances by our choir and jazz band.
When a parent volunteer emails or calls you in the next few days, we urge you to share what makes you proud of Washington Latin. And thank you for your ongoing contributions – as a volunteer and a financial supporter – to our success.
While the school year is now a month into its full swing, for seniors one of the official markings of the beginning of the year was the class trip to 4H Camp. This annual trip allows students to bond as a grade, think about the impact they would like to have in their final months of high school and work collaboratively with those in their advisories on activities such as “Capture the Flag,” making campfires, and other team building activities. This weekend experience also enables students to enjoy casual time with teachers and administrators, getting to know them and one another outside of the confines of the classroom.
The 4H Trip sets the tone for the senior year at Washington Latin, one that tends to be marked by intense emotional connection, friendship, collegiality, and cooperation. Many of our seniors have worked together at our school for eight years, growing from new students to the “seasoned leaders.” As they take on this year’s challenges, including rigorous honors and AP classes and applying to colleges, we hope they will learn to rely on each other and the friendships they have built over their time here.
And it seems that they have. As students shared special moments with each other, as a group, last weekend, one remarked: “We’re really lucky to go to a school like Latin, and I don’t think we always acknowledge that.” Another said, “Our school has a soul, and it’s really beautiful.” Teachers, administrators and students agreed that the experience was moving and affirming.
The year for the seniors culminates in another overnight trip. In June, they travel to Camp Letts, on the Rhode River, south of Annapolis. Once again, students will have the chance to work together in the outdoors, participating in games and boating and other fun activities. This event includes both graduating seniors and juniors. Besides offering opportunities for reflection, it is on this trip that the outgoing students “pass the torch” to the next generation of Latin leaders. We know that this bonding time for students helps them gain a better perspective on what it means to be part of our community. We hope that relationships nurtured, memories formed and lessons learned will last a lifetime.
In D.C., charters that are standalone schools or are a part of local networks are considered local education agencies (LEAs). Federal law defines an LEA as “a public board of education or other public authority legally constituted within a State.” In other words, an LEA is a school district, a non-profit authorized to operate a school or a group of schools. Last school year, there were 67 LEAs in D.C. The largest of these is DCPS, the traditional public school district. One of the fundamental differences between charter LEAs and DCPS is one of governance.
An independent board governs each charter school in the city. These volunteers, whether they are called trustees, directors, governors or managers, provide the strategic vision for their respective schools, hire leaders (usually just the senior school administrator, such as the Head of School or Executive Director), hold those leaders accountable for academic success, and provide financial oversight.
D.C. charter schools are required to have an odd number of board members not to exceed 15. The majority must be city residents. Moreover, at least two must be parents of currently enrolled students. At present, we have 13 people who serve on our board. Two of them are parents. Nine of them live in the city. Of the four who currently live in Maryland or Virginia, two of them grew up in D.C.
The highest performing schools tend to have engaged, trained, and informed board members. We have such volunteers at Washington Latin. The board president, A.E. Lovett, was one of the school’s founding parents. Her husband was on the founding board. Her younger child graduated from Latin this past spring. The vice-president is Chris Wilkinson who mentored one of our upper school students before beginning his first term of service. Other board members include Hunter Rawlings, the former president of Cornell University and a one-time president of the Association of American Universities, Christina Culver, a former Education Department official and Alex Economou, a teacher at an Arlington high school who was a student at National Cathedral School when Martha Cutts (my predecessor) worked there as Assistant Head and Director of the Upper School. The two current parents are Rusty Greiff, who has a son in the tenth grade and Laurie Ballenger, who has three children in the upper school. Her eldest child graduated this past spring.
The board has regular meetings 8-10 times per year. In the intervening weeks, committees take on most of the work. There will be a few occasions, over the course of the year, for parents to meet and get to know the people who govern our school. I hope that you will avail yourself of at least one of these opportunities.
When I was growing up, the assignment I dreaded more than any was the “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” essay that I was asked to write almost every year from the elementary grades through high school. I filled my summers with lots of reading and writing, plenty of time spent outdoors, the occasional day camp, and trips, usually to the beach or to the countryside. Still, I imagined that my classmates were enjoying far more exciting vacations and that my experiences “paled in comparison.”
What is evident to me is that many Washington Latin students have summertime options that were not available to me. Besides the local museums, art galleries, universities and recreational centers that offer programs, often at reasonable cost, Latin students are eligible to receive scholarships for international travel or to participate in cultural exchanges or policy forums. For situations in which external scholarships are limited or do not exist, we have also established the Equal Access fund to help us make international travel and summer enrichment possible for more students. You can learn more about that fund here.
At the 9th grade new student orientation a few days before the start of the school year, a few of our upper schoolers recounted their summer experiences. I was spellbound as I listened to students discuss what they had learned and how they had grown. The research is clear: summer programs which include academic and social components lead to positive outcomes for students. Benefits include higher school-year attendance and achievement, increased motivation to learn, increased feelings of belonging, and reduced participation in risky behavior. Just spend a minute or two talking with some of our students about how they spent their summer and you will walk away convinced that some of these experiences were transformative.
Junior Owen Fox-Whelpton studied Arabic in Morocco at the Qalam Wa Lawh Center. Junior Alicia Trejo did various projects as a part of the Learn Serve program in Paraguay. Senior Chandler Broussard was able to go to China and senior Dyllan Cole visited Jordan as a part of the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI–Y). Sophomore Lydia Moore volunteered with orphans in Tanzania. Ninth grader Nia Matthews-Cox participated in a peace camp in Indonesia. Junior Oliver Spiva studied neuroscience at McGill University in Montreal. Senior Maya Woods-Arthur spent several weeks at the St. Albans School of Public Service, where she met with house representatives and a Supreme Court justice. Several students participated in the Concordia Summer Language Camp in Minnesota. Two of our sophomores studied Arabic at the Middlebury Monterey Language Academy in Vermont. Three seniors went to Rome as a part of the Paideia Institute’s “Living Latin in Rome” program. One junior did a similar program in Greece. And this only accounts for a fraction of the summer adventures enjoyed by many of our students.
To learn more about international travel opportunities for our students (and especially how they can be affordable for your family), please visit the Study Abroad Forum at the school on Tuesday, September 25th at 6:30 p.m.