The School Without Walls High School is located in Washington D.C. on the campus of George Washington University. The collegiate environment is a result of the long-term partnership with the university that has yielded many benefits for both communities. The newest manifestation of this partnership is the joint Associate of Arts program. Select students can spend their junior and senior years as full-time George Washington University (GWU) students and earn both a high school diploma from School Without Walls and an Associates of Arts degree from GWU. Known to many as simply “Walls,” the community fosters formal and informal relationships among students, faculty, administration, families, GWU, and our partners.
Walls’ mission is built upon values. From admissions and alumni outreach, to public service and international exchange, to performance on page, stage, and field, all activities are structured to foster creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, persistence, responsible global citizenship, and appreciation of excellence.
Walls’ students go beyond what is expected. They demand more than pat answers to their questions. Walls’ students care about others and about their school. They value their independence and recognize the responsibilities associated with thinking and acting independently.
Founded in 1971, The School Without Walls High School is situated in a 19th century building with a 21st century addition that blurs the physical and programmatic boundaries between a small urban high school and a research university, creating a seamless, grade 9 through 16 curriculum. This school-university partnership grew to modernize/expand the deteriorating school building and create a residence hall.
Located in the heart of a major urban university’s academic district in downtown Washington, D.C., Walls takes full advantage of its urban location by creating partnerships with the University and the wealth of other resources throughout the District of Columbia. We literally use the city as a classroom. This philosophy has enabled the school to create a quality, student-centered, urban learning environment that emphasizes integrative, interactive, experiential learning.
The school’s student-centered philosophy is fostered by the architecture of the revitalized campus. The intimate, non-institutional character and the inviting, day-lit interior of the historic 19th-century school building are complemented by the daylight-filled, 21st-century addition that builds upon and enhances the small school ambiance. The new building includes state-of-the art labs, classrooms, a large and flexible “commons,” a media center with views across the academic district, and the school’s first controlled outdoor space—a second floor roof terrace. The entire half-acre site has been designed to ensure that every space, particularly the public space, provides formal and informal learning opportunities. For example, small seating areas within the atrium of the new building echo the central hall of the historic building. By promoting such positive interaction, the building fosters a subtle sense of security and encourages the continued creation of a strong learning community.
Building upon their established programmatic partnerships, the school and GWU have created another innovative partnership that will enable the school to be modernized and expanded. Through a Planned Unit Development, the university purchased a portion of the school’s parking lot and the school’s excess development rights, enabling the university to construct a much needed residence hall. The school district, in turn, is using the funds from this transaction to modernize and expand the school’s facilities to ensure that the learning environment supports the school’s ambitious and successful program.
Walls also participates in the Kennedy Center’s DC Partnership Schools Initiative. Through this partnership, the Kennedy Center has helped Walls develop a customized arts education program that integrates Kennedy Center resources and programs that are aligned to the curriculum, including providing an artist-in-residence, professional learning for teachers, and student and teacher attendance at Kennedy Center performances and events. Participation in the program is by Kennedy Center invitation.
Serving Our Students
Walls’ demanding program is specifically designed to serve its students’ needs. Intellectual and academic talents are developed by providing traditional pre-college and college-level curriculum and a set of specific experiential expectations.
Walls students pursue traditional assessment through Advance Placement (AP) courses, college courses at GWU and Howard University, and humanities-social science programs integrated throughout the curriculum with support from partner, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. In addition, Walls’ students require opportunities to build portfolios for alternative ways of intellectual assessment through international experience, community service, internships, and senior thesis capstone projects.
Students are encouraged—expected—to generate questions and find answers. This creates an environment where students are served both as a community and as an individual. Walls students fulfill minimum DCPS graduation requirements and progressive Walls graduation requirements during a four-year course of study.
Students graduate from Walls with skills that include self-discipline, self-questioning, flexibility, deeper appreciation for inquiry, and a confident approach to the adventure of learning. Walls students are successful in their academic lives and their careers.