WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hundreds of parents, teachers and community members celebrated the start of the new school year at D.C. Bilingual on Friday in the former Community Academy Public Charter School building.
Parents walked with their kids throughout the new classrooms, while others played hopscotch and ate popcorn outside. A community member dressed as a jester and played a horn as he beckoned families to outside festivities.
It was the culmination of a citywide effort to find a home for the 1,600 students displaced when the D.C. Public Charter School Board voted to close CAPCS in February. The charter’s five buildings were divided between D.C. Bilingual, Friendship Public Charter School and the D.C. Public Schools. Students attending CAPCS were given preference to attend D.C. Bilingual or Friendship.
Seventy of those former CAPCS students opted to stay in their old building and attend D.C. Bilingual, a Spanish language immersion elementary school.
Scott Pearson, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, praised D.C. Bilingual, calling it “a model of what a charter school should be like.”
He said the school was diverse, drawing students from all eight D.C. wards. This year over 90 percent of parents opted to come back to the schools, despite the move from its former Columbia Heights building to Fort Totten.
“The charter board, we look at that and we say, that tells us more than almost anything else about how families feel about their school,” he said.
He and other staff members of the board worked with the city and school staff in the past few weeks to prepare it for the first week of school. Pearson even spent one afternoon sanding down a window couch in a prekindergarten classroom that will be used as a reading area.
Transition from CAPCS
Daniela Anello, the principal of D.C. Bilingual, said the transition to the new building was tough. She said community meetings with parents in the months leading up to the opening of the school were emotional.
“(Parents) felt very frustrated because they didn’t understand the decision to close the school based on actions of stakeholders that didn’t necessarily play a role in their personal experience at the school,” she said.
Anello wanted to rebuild parents’ experience with schools and held many meetings and events to make the community feel welcome.
Sarah Nestor, a former CAPCS parent, said the transition to D.C. Bilingual was smooth. Someone from the city would contact her every other week to make sure she had chosen a school for her daughter, Malia Makey.
Nestor said while she was sad to see CAPCS close, she was excited her daughter was accepted into D.C. Bilingual as a first grader and would learn Spanish this year. But what really caught her eye was the reading and math scores of the charter’s students.
“My daughter is really good at reading and math, so I wanted to make sure that she went to a school that had that,” she said.
Charisma Hughes is also excited about the opportunity her son Jasiah will have to learn Spanish. Her family is originally from the Dominican Republic and she had tried to enroll her son in a language immersion school last year, but wasn’t matched with the school.
“I’m a lot happier now (than I was with CAPCS),” she said.
Anello said the experience she’s had with parents who opted to stay and attend her school has been positive.
“Now that they’re starting to get to know us, they respect us and they like us and they want to be a part of the work,” she said.