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School Without Walls

Washington, D.C.’s School Without Walls (simply called “Walls” by the school community) truly knows no bounds. The school’s state-of-the-art facilities sit on the George Washington (GW) University campus, a location that has greatly contributed to the school’s success. Walls was recently named a 2010 National Blue Ribbon School, which prompted U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to visit the school. Duncan lauded Walls for its one-of-a-kind partnership with GW, calling it “the absolute maximum model.”

This model offers students access to college classes while still in high school. The GW Early College Program allows qualified students to take college-credit courses beginning their junior year and to graduate with both their high school diploma and an associate degree in the liberal arts. The program allows graduating seniors to enter their first year of university as essentially college juniors. Walls students also benefit from less formal associations with GW, such as an internship program with the university newspaper, the use of GW science labs, and a mock trial team headed by a GW student and professor.

The school’s community partnerships extend beyond the university. Previously, Walls has partnered with the Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson law firm and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Students are also encouraged to use their city to inform their academic experience by visiting the U.S. Capitol, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Aquarium and the National Zoo.

As the school’s name suggests, the Walls’ philosophy is that education “is more than what takes place within the school walls,” says George Reidy, who has taught mathematics at Walls for 28 years. That’s why the school moved to its current location, close to the city’s Metrorail system, which students frequently use to get to their internships.

Although Reidy has taught elsewhere, he finds that Walls attracts particularly hard-working and conscientious staff members. “People are constantly helping kids at lunchtime or after school,” he says.

Such teacher support has helped Walls climb the academic ranks with exceptional speed. In 2007, Newsweek ranked the school 734 out of 1,349 top high schools. In 2010, it was ranked 112. Walls boasts impressive test scores, and the achievement gap between white and African-American students is minimal. This year, 94.3 percent of African-American sophomores and 95 percent of white sophomores met the math standards, while 100 percent of white students and 92.4 percent of African-American students met the benchmark in reading.



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