The historic estate of Frederick Douglass in Southeast Washington acts as an adjunct classroom for its neighbor, Ketcham Elementary School, serving as everything from a history laboratory to a graduation site.
As a result, the life of Douglass, a self-educated black slave who became an eloquent statesman, abolitionist and ambassador, and his Victorian home atop one of the tallest hills in Anacostia have become a symbol for the surrounding community of predominantly lower-income families.
Seven years ago Ketcham's principal, Romaine Thomas, decided to create a special relationship between the school and the Victorian home, located a block away, by making the front yard of the house the site of Ketcham's annual graduation ceremonies.
"Some of the teachers had second thoughts," she said. "But I was determined because it bothered me that the Douglass home was sitting there in all of its splendor and capturing all of the magnificence of his character, but many students and parents told me that they never even visited the home. I knew I could start a trend that would motivate people to come here, and I think now that has really happened," she said.
Last Monday, in what has become a school tradition, Ketcham's sixth-grade graduating class marched in pairs up the steep brick steps to the home and took their seats in front of the wide covered porch. A few minutes later, rain forced the graduation to move to Ketcham's auditorium.
During each school year, all Ketcham students study the life of Douglass as part of their history curriculum and then are taken on their own private tour of the mansion that Douglass bought in l877 and lived in until his death in l899.
Thomas said it is easier to teach the children about Douglass and slavery when they can touch and feel that history in the home.
Last year, Ketcham received a plaque from the U.S. Park Service, in recognition of the school's activities, to change the home's role from a little-known site in the community to a popular neighborhood.
Last week, the Park Service invited Ketcham's choir to sing in the inaugural ceremony that marked the inclusion of the estate as an official stop on the Park Service tour bus route in Washington.