The District’s public school system plans to offer middle-school students the opportunity to travel internationally, officials announced Tuesday, part of an effort to expand opportunities in grades where the city has faced struggles.
The chance to travel, funded through a multimillion-dollar campaign by the D.C. Public Education Fund, will be available starting next year to eighth-grade students who are taking or have completed a foreign language course, said Jessica Rauch, president and executive director of the fund.
International travel is part of a package of expanded middle-school offerings — including career exploration, summer enrichment and home-visiting programs — that Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) highlighted Tuesday during a week-long series of events leading up to her first State of the District speech.
At a news conference at Brookland Middle School, which is scheduled to open in August, Bowser said the middle-school years can change the trajectory of students’ lives. They also are “important years for the trajectory of our city,” she said.
Many District families leave the school system when their children enter fifth or sixth grades, and Bowser made improving middle schools a centerpiece of her campaign. The mayor did not unveil any major policy or funding announcements but said strengthening middle schools will be a priority in the city’s budget.
D.C. Public Schools directed extra funding to middle schools this school year to provide every school with a complement of classes in algebra, foreign language, art, music and physical education, as well as extra opportunities for field trips. Next year, the schools chancellor plans to make a similar infusion into academic programs and extracurricular offerings in comprehensive high schools while maintaining funding for middle schools and working to expand the career and enrichment programs.
Construction is nearing completion at Brookland Middle School, which will focus on arts and world languages. The light-filled facility has multiple performance spaces, an outdoor classroom on the roof of the new gym and space set aside for public art installations.
Opening day was moved back by a year because of construction challenges and early concerns about recruiting enough students.
On Tuesday, Principal Norah Lycknell, who will be transferring from Janney Elementary in Ward 3, said that Brookland’s budget was originally built on a projection of 224 students. But the citywide enrollment lottery yielded a higher number of applicants, so she expects to draw closer to 300 students in the first year. The building’s capacity is 560.
Brookland will draw students from multiple education campuses that serve students in preschool through eighth grade.
Bowser said she grew up a few minutes away from the school and attended Brookland when she was in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. She said she plans to have a similar event soon at a rebuilt MacFarland Middle School in Petworth, another neighborhood where parents are eager to see a stand-alone middle school with a range of programs.
Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said middle school is the “age of exploration,” and she supports investing in more opportunities for students to explore different careers, college opportunities and cultures.
“Right now, some of our middle-grade students take trips,” she said. “We want all of our middle-grade students to do that.”