Nearly 75 years ago, Georgetown Day School was founded as the first integrated school in Washington, DC, and our School’s longstanding commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion are grounded in that history. Our founders envisioned a school in which children would learn joyfully, in which they would be meaningfully challenged, and in which their education would prepare them to engage as changemakers locally, nationally, and even globally. They established GDS as a school where children love to learn and learn to change the world.
How do we create an environment where our students both love school and develop the capacity and will to make a positive difference in their communities and beyond? The cultivation of such an environment is grounded in some of our foundational beliefs about children. At GDS, we believe that:
- Children want to learn. It is not unusual to find a curious kindergartener who delights at the prospect of listening to a story or discovering a new topic. The trick is to sustain this sense of wonder throughout a child’s education. I’m proud of the curiosity still exhibited by our Middle School and High School students, young people who are inspired by passionate teachers, engaged peers, and pedagogy that honors their intrinsic desire to know and explore.
- Children are capable of acting on their own behalf. Stories of 1st grade students protesting the relocation of a sandbox, or 5th graders petitioning to have the day off after Halloween, are legion at GDS. The truth is, these stories don’t happen by themselves. They happen in part because we encourage the sparks of activism and voice that we see in young people, bathing them in stories of other activists who have used their voices to advocate for justice. And they happen in part because we refrain from extinguishing student’s independence by solving problems for them. It was in my third week at GDS that I noticed a six-year-old walking down the hallway by herself. “Where are you going?” I asked. “The art room,” she replied. “Do you need any help?” I asked her. She looked at me puzzled and responded, “I know where the art room is!”
- Children are essentially good. Children understand intuitively whether adults believe in their inherent goodness. At GDS, children are trusted to make good choices, whether it is the unaccompanied six-year-old described above or the High School students who have an open campus. Of course we know that children make mistakes and need appropriate feedback to learn. And yet we view this as a necessary part of their learning and not an indictment of their character.
- Children’s unique identities are a source of strength. Our founders intuitively understood something that research has since borne out—diverse learning environments are inherently more effective. Students learn more when they have an opportunity to learn alongside students and teachers who both mirror their identities and those whose identities are different. When children are seen, known, and loved for their unique selves, they will thrive.
- When children are treated with dignity by adults, they respond in kind. Walk into a Middle School classroom before school and you will often find a teacher sitting at her desk, surrounded by students. Our students are eager to share their lives with their teachers because the teachers listen carefully and are invested in who their students are and who they are becoming. This same truth is made manifest in the High School when witnessing an English teacher sitting on a couch next to a student, reviewing a paper. The attention given to each individual author, reflected in both copious comments shared on a draft and in the seriousness of the conversation in a coaching session, tells a student, “I see you. I value you. You have something important to say, and I want to help you say it in the most compelling way possible.” It is no surprise that when I ask seniors what has been the most influential part of their GDS experience, again and again they name their teachers.
Oftentimes I hear GDS families talk about GDS’s “special sauce.” How is it, they want to know, that GDS students seem to both love school and care deeply about what they’re doing? The answer is simple, really. When young people are honored for their curiosity, their unique identities, their voices, their goodness and capacity, they thrive. This is the foundation that was laid by our founders 75 years ago. It’s one that we are fortunate to be able to build on today.
Welcome to Georgetown Day School.
Russell H. Shaw
Head of School