On a seasonably warm day in January 2022, the students of Capitol Learning Academy (CLA) finished recess at the new Eastern Market Metro Park Playground and headed back to class (725 Eighth St SE). But when they got back to Barracks Row, where their school is based, the group came across an alarming sight: a barricade of police cars and secret service agents.
CLA Founder and Executive Director Alexandra (Alex) Roosenburg was afraid something was very wrong. As she approached with her students, she worried they might have to lock down the school.
She soon found out the reason for the security presence: President Joe Biden had been shopping at a small business just two doors down from their school. The Secret Service agents who conveyed that information also permitted students and teachers to watch from afar, all standing along a storefront giddy for the chance to see Biden as he walked to his motorcade.
Instead, Roosenburg remembered, as Biden walked out of the store, he headed right towards their little group on the sidewalk. The President took multiple pictures with students, excitedly conversed with them, and cracked jokes with the teachers.
Roosenburg recounted how one of her students asked Biden for a handshake as the President was leaving. “He [Biden] turned around and shook his hand,” Roosenburg said, “and [he] shook a couple other kids’ hands and, you know, made their whole lives!”
Meeting the President on the way back from recess was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was an opportunity to appreciate the surrounding community, world and the possibility that comes in it.
That’s the kind of learning CLA aims to provide: self-directed, experiential learning in a small setting that will give students the resources and skillset to succeed in an unpredictable future.
Capitol Learning Academy is a new private elementary and middle school. It opened on Barrack’s Row in 2018 with six students ranging in age from 6 to 11 years old. In the years since, the school has expanded with a goal of growing even further, up to 150 students from ages 5 to 13.
Teaching for the Future
Roosenburg came up with the idea for CLA while she was working at other schools internationally and locally. She also looked at how her current workplace ran, and got to thinking about issues of education and school choice. She said she came to believe that there had to be a better way to prepare students for the future and that to do so educators needed to completely reimagine the idea of what school is and how it functions. “I am trying to provide a unique, progressive style of education for kids that prepares them for the unknown future,” she said. “We don’t know what the future holds for them, so we want to teach the kids how to be flexible and independent.”
Roosenburg came to believe that one could find a way to teach and motivate students with a personalized education plan. Learning at CLA is student-driven and student-focused. Curriculum includes a small, personalized learning program for each student, and has a ratio of about eight students per learning facilitator. That means not only that each child follows their own interests, they also learn at their own pace, allowing a student to pursue subjects beyond grade or age-level expectations.
Every student has an individualized learning program that aligns with the foundational skills – reading, writing, and math and where they stand in their skill levels. This allows students to work at their own pace, rather than being rushed through topics according to a standard curriculum. “It allows us to keep pushing them, and move at their pace,” Roosenburg said. “When they get something, then great! Let’s move on to the next thing.”
Located close to metro and bus stops, the CLA building is easily accessible. But it is also centrally located, taking full advantage of local community resources on Capitol Hill and in the District. Students at CLA use public parks for recess and check books out of public libraries. They have also been able to create many connections with neighbors on Barracks Row. Students learn dance with Momentum Dance, across Eighth Street, learn double dutch with DC Retro Jumpers in Marion Park and learn and explore art with Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW). Learning is not limited to the classroom, and students are part of the school but also the community and the world.
In an effort to ensure anyone who wants to attend the school can, tuition is indexed according to each family’s specific circumstances. CLA considers factors such as family income, health needs and number of children when determining tuition, which can range from $2,000 up to $20,000. “Our explicit goal is to have a very intentionally diverse learning space, with a balance of socioeconomic backgrounds,” Roosenburg said.
The school is working to expand with every new academic year. Admissions are open now for the next school year. Get more information or apply at www.capitollearningacademy.org
Piper Cherry is a spring intern with the Hill Rag. She is a junior at The Field School. You can reach her at Piper@hillrag.com.