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Posted at 02:12 PM ET, 10/01/2012

Profile: Matthew Wheelock, founder of Live It Learn It

The Post’s education team produces a short profile each Monday of someone with an interesting school-related story to tell. That could mean a remarkable student, a beloved teacher, an inspiring principal or a parent sparking neighborhood change.

Do you know of a Washingtonian we should consider profiling? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at browne@washpost.com.

This week I wrote about Matthew Wheelock, who started a nonprofit organization that helps D.C. schools turn our city into a classroom:

A decade ago, the next logical career move for Matthew Wheelock was to head overseas to work in his law firm’s Tokyo office. Instead, aiming to make a difference in the city where he grew up, he became a fourth-grade teacher at the District’s Walker-Jones Elementary School.

There he faced the puzzle that many idealistic teachers confront in urban schools: how to motivate and engage his students, many of whom were living in poverty and were struggling to read.
Matthew Wheelock left a law career to work in the city’s schools. (KK Otteson)

Wheelock’s answer was to use the city as a classroom, anchoring lessons in the cultural and historic institutions that draw millions of tourists to Washington but remain little known to many of the city’s children.

“The Capitol may have been 10 blocks from Walker-Jones,” he said, “but it might as well have been across the country in terms of the connection the kids had to it.”

Exploring those backyard landmarks helped kids form a personal connection to their academic lessons and sparked an excitement for learning that Wheelock wanted to spread to students across the city. After three years of teaching, he left his job to found Live It Learn It, a nonprofit dedicated to making sure disadvantaged kids get access to hands-on field trips.

Eight years later, Live It Learn It is thriving. The organization, which has drawn solid support from the foundation community, has grown from one to seven employees and works with more than 1,600 fourth- , fifth- and sixth-graders at two dozen of the District’s high-poverty neighborhood public schools.

Each group of students ventures into the city for three trips a year. And each trip is sandwiched by lessons that help connect the out-of-classroom experience to in-classroom academics.

“The kids, when they go visit, they’re really primed to maximize the experience,” said Scott Cartland, principal of Wheatley Education Campus in Northeast. Students also get a rare trip out of their neighborhood, he said — and they have fun.

Altogether, Live It Learn It offers more than 30 programs at more than two dozen sites.

Fourth-graders learning about ecosystems and conservation journey to the National Zoo to see animals they may only have read about, while sixth-graders studying geometry and architecture construct a geodesic dome at the National Building Museum.

Tests given before and after the trips show that students aren’t just having a good time. They’re also learning skills and content that they’re required to master. It’s a model that draws plaudits from teachers and principals.

By  |  02:12 PM ET, 10/01/2012

Tags:  dc public schools

 
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