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Within a matter of weeks, four District public schools will execute a curriculum redesign that students, teachers, parents, business leaders and other community members have spent more than a year developing during a series of meetings.
The schools — Calvin Coolidge Senior High School and Columbia Heights Educational Campus (CHEC) in Northwest and H.D. Woodson STEM High School and Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Northeast — represent the second cohort of a partnership between DC Public Schools (DCPS) and XQ Institute.
Through this partnership, young people, like Coolidge Senior High School student Shamiyah McGee, have been able to think deeply about what they desire for their high school experience. For Shamiyah, the community engagement portion of the redesign process served as a much-needed lesson in patience that she said will help her navigate the STEM field.
“I have a strong voice [to advocate] for my education and that of other students,” said Shamiyah, a rising junior at Coolidge who aspires to be an architectural engineer.
Coolidge’s curriculum redesign integrates the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, through which students develop their global leadership skills while conducting projects focused on local issues.
Shamiyah said the redesign will enhance what she has come to love and respect about Coolidge.
“There are so many ideas on the table that can be used. I’m looking forward to the next couple of years at Coolidge High School,” she told the Informer. “It’s a top-tier school [because] it’s given me so many opportunities to express myself outside of the classroom.”
Nearly nine miles away, H.D. Woodson student Wynnter Price said she participated in the redesign community engagement process with the wellbeing of the incoming freshmen weighing heavily on her mind.
During the 2023-2024 school year, those freshmen will participate in classes where they identify and pursue their passions, and eventually get an early head start on postsecondary pursuits. Options will include micro-credentialing in personal fitness and real estate, and enrollment in an early college program.
Wynnter, a rising junior at H.D. Woodson High School, expressed her hope that freshmen will grow closer together as they embark on a new academic journey together. As a potential guest lecturer in their classes, she could witness their development in real time.
“I want to see our students come together more as a community,” said Wynnter, an aspiring travel nurse and real estate agent. “The class we designed will do that. It allows incoming freshmen to know each other more so they can have a better bond throughout their four years.”
The Latest Chapter in an Ongoing Process
During the 2022-2023 school year, Dunbar High School and Cardozo High School in Northwest implemented the DC+XQ Redesign. DCPS embarked on a similar mission in 2019 with Anacostia High School and Ballou High School, both located in Southeast.
At Dunbar, students and staff members navigated an Afrofuturistic education model that integrated technology and direct engagement with community institutions. Meanwhile, students at Cardozo learned about entrepreneurship and financial independence with the infusion of business and finance entities in the school’s various academies.
Over the last several months, community members at CHEC, Coolidge High School, H.D. Woodson High School, and Ron Brown College Preparatory High School refined their yet-to-be-implemented designs and gathered input from community members.
For each school, the process included use of an Equity Opportunity Audit to determine which students didn’t benefit from the current education model. Students even left the confines of their campuses at one point during the 2022-2023 school year to meet each other and discuss their visions for their academic journey.
Toward the end of 2022, Rachel Curry-Neal entered her role as redesign director at H.D. Woodson eager to build upon the work completed thus far. She expressed a desire to include more people, including alumni, parents, teachers, and students who had either been unengaged or unaware about the redesign process.
In describing her strategy, Curry-Neal told the Informer that she hosted redesign days and lunches to better diversify students’ voices. She recounted even going as far as catching students in the hallways, entering classrooms and passing out surveys. Such efforts, she said, inspired the words “passion” and “inspiration,” both of which became the driving force of H.D. Woodson’s redesign.
“Coming into this experience, I was joining a robust and energized community,” Curry-Neal said. “Synthesizing students’ vision and connecting the pieces was exciting. They laid an amazing foundation. It was about making sure students’ voices were at the forefront. They had tantalizing ideas about how school could reflect what they want.”
Kira Rowe, redesign director at Coolidge High School, said that the model that students will experience this fall has been built upon previous efforts to prioritize student wellness, bring them in tune with nature, and help them develop an interest in their community.
Rowe recounted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the foundation of Coolidge High School’s redesign, compelling discussion between students, teachers and community members about hands-on learning and student wellness. She said the development goals — which include climate action, responsible consumption and production, reduced inequalities, peace justice and strong institutions — appealed to young people who have a natural inclination to solve problems.
“One of the blessings for Coolidge was the opportunity for cultivation [and] getting feedback from our first application and engaging community members, staff and families,” Rowe said. “We’ve created a school redesign committee full of younger students who will feel the redesign. The redesign model meets sustainability goals to give students a global experience, [a chance to] work on their wellness, and complete action and research-based caption projects.”
The Bigger Picture
Since its 2015 inception, XQ Institute has funded the design and implementation of more than 50 high school redesigns in collaboration with school districts and state education departments. It has done so through six design principles: strong mission and culture; meaningful, engaged learning; caring, trusting relationships; youth voice and choice; smart use of time, space and technology; and community partnerships.
For Semanthe Bright, principal at Coolidge High School, the DC+XQ redesign presents an opportunity for students to take full advantage of all that the District has to offer in the realm of government and international affairs.
“We’re around the corner from Embassy Row and the White House [and] we’re across the bridge from the Pentagon,” Bright said. “There are many international opportunities for our students and the city allows us to use it as a hub of learning. We don’t want the redesign to be something that’s just in the moment. We want to sustain it over time [so] it’s an anchor in our community.”
William Massey, H.D. Woodson’s principal, expressed similar thoughts, telling the Informer that the redesign counts as another piece of the puzzle that will make H.D. Woodson a stronger institution, especially since students are more involved in its development.
“We can enhance the student experience along the way and bring students to the forefront of the planning,” Massey said. “It allows them to figure out how to map out their four-year journey and what they are going to do in their postsecondary studies.”