Why it’s called the ‘School Without Walls’

The fabulous new School Without Walls library (Marvin Joseph/WASHINGTON POST)

Yes, yes, very funny. But why is it a “School Without Walls”?

A quick history: The school was founded in 1971, part of a concept in urban education at the time to “use the city as a classroom,” immediately patterned after Philadelphia’s Parkway School and the Chicago Public High School for Metropolitan Studies. Here is the school concept, as explained in a Post story published upon the school’s March 1971 opening:

The idea behind the school, based in a small suite of offices on the 12th floor of a building at 1411 K St. NW, is that there are better ways of educating than simply putting students and teachers off by themselves in a school building every day. Instead the “school without walls” intends to use the District of Columbia, with its museums, government offices and universities, as its classroom. The city’s people — its scholars, small businessmen, white and blue-collar workers — will supplement the professional teaching staff.

Washington’s version of the “school without walls” was considered “more conservative” than its peer alernative schools, but it has been the longest-lasting and most successful. Still enrolled by application, it eventually became very much a school with walls — moving into the Webster School for Pregnant Girls at 10th and H streets NW, and then to the Magruder School, next to the Sumner School at 17th and M streets NW.

It later moved into the old Grant School in Foggy Bottom, where these days it has very nice walls indeed, after a renovation and addition was completed in 2009.

Some old Post clips:

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.


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