By Brett Graham, DC school HUB Correspondent
Private education has been around for more than 2,200 years. That’s a long time. Over the course of two plus millennia, the experience for students has changed. For me, sitting at my desk, forced to ignore those around me, speaking only when called on, and enduring reproach when I didn’t know 7 x 8 pretty much summed up my middle school experience.
Today, private schools are seeing another shift backed by research on how students learn best. From that research new schools are establishing themselves to push the needle in a much needed new direction.
There are a few schools newly established or on the horizon of opening that are testing the traditional and even progressive models of education. And over the next several weeks we will be highlighting some of them, including Blyth-Templeton Academy, BASIS Independent McLean, Fusion Academy, and Acton Academy.
Blyth-Templeton Academy (BTA), a high school in SE DC, officially opened their doors in the fall of 2015 with 50 students. Captained by well-known DC area power administrator, Lee Palmer, the school doubled its enrollment in 2016. Ms. Palmer was formerly the upper school principal at Sidwell Friends School and a highly decorated teacher before that. Some feel that BTA needed an established leader from an area powerhouse school to gain credibility. In an interview with DC school HUB, Ms. Palmer disagreed with that assumption.
“The reason I was a fit for Blyth-Templeton had less to do with my previous schools and more to do with my educational philosophy. What we’re doing here seems “new,” but in many ways it’s far from new. We’ve created a school based on what we know works: learning by doing, strong student-teacher relationships, and deeper learning that is connected to our students’ lives.” said Palmer.
So how is BTA different? How about classes maxing at 8 students per, learning only two subjects every 12 weeks, and class periods lasting 2 hours and 20 minutes. You might think 140 minute classes would get boring, but when you add in travel time around DC to make it experiential, time flies! “It’s not uncommon for students to visit the U.S. Capitol as part of a history lesson or explore math concepts at the National Building Museum. This type of experiential learning is woven into everything we do. It’s not just an occasional field trip, but a daily and weekly part of how our students learn,” said Palmer.
That all seems great, but what’s the price? 30K? 40K? How about less than $15,000 (are you listening every other private school in DC?). Don’t expect that price tag to come with a huge athletic complex or a 5-star dining facility. Those things don’t come cheap. But for 15K, it feels like you can get a unique education that prepares you more for the real world than most sit-at-a-desk-and-listen schools. In fact, there are no desks at BTA and according to Lee Palmer, “Every student has a “front row seat” and is noticed, included, and valued”.