Redesigning Middle School

Where are all the high-quality middle schools in DC?  Last year, there were 64 public and public charter schools serving middle school students in the District.  Only four of those schools were high-performing, scoring five stars using DC’s own Star Framework.  All four of these high-performing schools are in Wards 2 and 3, the wards with the highest median income.  And all four of these schools are full.  Last year, 875 applicants competed in the lottery for their 17 available seats combined. Capital Village PCS views this as a crisis. In middle school, the years where our schools should be setting up our students for success, only certain students, in certain schools, in certain neighborhoods have their learning needs met. Capital Village PCS seeks to disrupt the system of haves and have-nots and design a new model of middle school where it is not predictable who will fail and who will succeed. As an intentionally small community focused on the whole child, Capital Village will create a relentlessly student-centered environment where all students, regardless of background or circumstance, are propelled toward their fullest potential and become agents of change in their communities.

Every student is different. Each child brings with him or her a different set of interests, ambitions, circumstances, and needs. However, many schools educate students as large groups, with little opportunity to meet the unique needs and interests of students as individuals. When the Capital Village team asked middle school students how they would redesign their school, time and time again, they cite the same key issues: They want more authenticity, more skills that are relevant to their everyday lives, and above all, more agency in their own learning experiences.  Jamari, an energetic and curious eighth-grader, responded by bluntly saying, “I hate school.” Deciding to expound, she said, “It’s boring and has nothing to do with real life. All they teach us is how to pass a test. Why can’t I learn about credit and how to pay a mortgage … for real life?” Our active, social and passionate middle schoolers need a way to access learning experiences that are centered around their diverse needs, interests and passions.  Born out of the urgent need to rethink the “one size fits all” model of American education, Capital Village is an EL Education school that will empower all students to achieve greatness in college, career, and life. Our academic model is built on three key principles: 

Learning is best when it is student-centered and student-driven. 

Each student at Capital Village Schools has a personalized learning plan tailored to his or her specific needs and abilities. Students learn to become “leaders of their own learning” and take responsibility for their own achievement.  Our school is small, more than half the size of an average middle school, so that students can be known and their learning experience customized to their unique learning needs.

Learning should be relevant and based in the real world.

Our teachers guide students through interdisciplinary projects that pique their curiosity, stimulate their imaginations, and fuel their passions. Students and teachers make use of intentional community partnerships, using the city as a classroom with regular field experiences and visits from teaching artists and experts. Each day, students work on real-world, interdisciplinary, collaborative, and project-based expeditions where standards come to life. Social justice provides a framework for students to solve real problems and be measured by real indicators of success.

It takes a whole village working together to lift up the whole child.

Capital Village is a learning community with structures that support each child’s holistic development. Along with academic skills, teachers prioritize teaching and modeling the Habits of Character needed for college, career and life – and give students opportunities to grow as ethical people and contributors to a better world. This spirit is the “village” in Capital Village, the belief in the joint effort of students themselves, combined with great teachers, excellent leaders, engaged families and community partners, to lift up and propel every child toward their fullest potential.

Our motivation comes from the community that has informed our model. Each and every part of our design aligns with what students and families demand: relevance, authenticity, and agency. We believe a learning experience like this should be free and available to all students.