As the COVID-19 crisis has deepened so quickly throughout the US this week, the questions we have continued to ask ourselves at WSG are "how can we support our girls when we can’t be with them right now? How can we continue their education, be the friendly faces they see each day, and be a continual partner with their family, during incredibly challenging circumstances? How do we provide the reassurances that children need during this time to let them know it will all be okay, even when we feel so unsure ourselves?"

Every school is wrestling with their own decision-making on meeting the needs of their students, given their own school culture, climate and capabilities. For WSG, we wanted to keep our school mission in the forefront of our decision making, trying to do as much as we could to support our students and their families knowing the important role that WSG plays for so many.

As a result, some of our key decisions were:

Learning Continuity - To the extent possible, we want to keep students connected to their teachers and to each other during this time. Virtual classrooms are video enabled, allowing our students to see their teachers, ask questions and chat with friends. To accomplish this, we’ve continued to reach out to families to ensure students have appropriate technology at home, and if not, we provided it. It is important for children to feel the same supportive community around them, and we know our teachers are a source of that stability.

Structure and Consistency - Our virtual school day starts with student-led morning prayer, much like the day on campus. Students follow a schedule set by their teachers, with specific times to check in and office hours when they can be in live conversation with their teachers to get help. Classroom sessions allow them to see and interact with each other, and the girls have received information on classroom expectations while online. Consequences for not following those in the online classroom? A teacher may “mute” a student, allowing them to still see the classroom activities, but not interact, if unable to constructively participate without distracting others. We are all still finding how to adapt to a new classroom and learning experience, and yet the expectation that students will positively participate in class remains the same. Teachers and/or our school counselors may connect with any families individually when there seems to be prolonged difficulty for any student.

Checking In and Feedback - Each day, there has been a survey sent along to teachers to understand what is going well, what isn’t going well. We’ve held an open parent webinar to hear their thoughts and followed up at the end of the virtual week with a survey for them as well. We’ve tried to diagnose and solve as many technology problems as we can and parents have indicated they appreciate the support for them at home. The girls are their own best advocates as well! They’ve emailed their teachers, raised their hands virtually and indicated when they aren’t able to follow along. We’ve made changes to adapt to the feedback, and will continue to do so, understanding that hearing from students and families on how this is going on their end is an important indicator of our effectiveness.

Creating Community - Perhaps the biggest challenge has been identifying ways to recreate the WSG community that we all experience when we are not physically together. Starting the day with our Morning Prayer is an important part of that, as it mimics prayer at school. Hearing the students’ voices leading our prayer and seeing that there are over 100 others logged in at the same time to participate, is so warming to me in my home, and gives us all a sense of our community all together at the same time. Sharing the commitment to our students, providing opportunities for students to interact with each and their teachers, letting families know that we are there for help, supporting and learning from each other as educators, are all reflective of our WSG community and our core values of goodness, generosity and faith.

This crisis has forced us as educators to focus on being flexible in understanding how we might best serve our students now and to determine what is most important each day. What they are learning curriculum-wise and how that paces through the next few weeks may need to adapt as we assess the effectiveness of our distance learning, assessing what has not gone well. We hope that we will get back on campus with our girls during this school year, however, that is a big unknown at this point. We are proud of what we have done to provide for their education in the meantime. And we also know that at this time among the most important lessons we can deliver to our students is that WSG, and all the many adults who comprise our school, cares for them and remains committed to their learning, even during the most difficult circumstances.

Women’s History Month presents the perfect opportunity to pay tribute to all the many women in our school history that helped create the school we enjoy today. WSG was formed in 1997, the brainchild of a group of women who were inspired by women in history to serve, nurture and educate young girls. Southeast Washington, D.C. was chosen as the location for WSG: the co-founders felt it essential for WSG to be present where girls were most underserved educationally. WSG was founded on the premise of educational equity - acknowledging that girls East of the River should have the same opportunities, hopes and dreams as young girls everywhere else in DC, and deserve to have the education needed to help them reach their goals.

Our co-founders recognized the importance of values-based education, and selected three "Founding Spirits" that would serve as knowable and accessible examples of those values in the years to come. To this day, our Founding Spirits continue to shape and form our program. Cornelia Connelly (Society of Holy Child Jesus) promoted an approach to education based on trust and reverence for every human being. Her schools encourage children to develop to their full potential, based on her firm belief that all fields of study contribute to the development of that potential. Mary McLeod Bethune (National Council of Negro Women) believed as an educator and civil rights activist that achieving a quality education would be an important equalizer between races. And Claudine Thevenet (Religious of Jesus and Mary) was devoted to providing young women with opportunities for work that would imbue both economic autonomy and a sense of dignity. It is these real-life courageous women in history that led our own co-founders Sr. Mary Bourdon, Ms. Jennifer Gibbs Phillips and others to design a school that weaves together perspectives from each founding spirit to form our unique school identity.

From our humble beginnings in the basement of an apartment building in Southeast, D.C. over 20 years ago, to now on two campuses serving over 125 girls, the vision of a school inspired by famous women in history continues. Cornelia Connelly urges us to provide an academic program recognizing the whole child, which is evidenced by our commitment to social-emotional learning and a wide range of out-of-classroom experiences and learning opportunities for our students. From Mary McLeod Bethune we know it is important for our students, all young girls of color, to be positively engaged in school and that they see themselves represented in their education: in our classrooms, hallways, books in the library, and throughout the curriculum. And from Claudine Thevenet we are reminded to elevate the voices of those who are often overlooked, encouraging our girls to advocate for themselves and their learning.

We have a small “pop-up museum” on our campus at THEARC this month, with artifacts on our Founding Spirits generously loaned to us by each organization. Looking at the materials shows how Washington School for Girls is a perfect example of a school where women in history are still evident in the school today - and continue to influence how we look to our future. With our daily focus on supporting the development of future courageous women, we are inspired to build on the vision of our Founding Spirits and the co-founders of the school. We take all of what we’ve learned from these women and our 20 years of education on our journey to ensure WSG continues to be an important place for girls in the years to come.

Update: Since WSG will be closed for the remainder of March, the "pop-up museum" will stay on display when we return to school.

WSG students recently had the opportunity to meet and learn from an innovative and creative entrepreneur through our Leadership Series. The series brings in diverse women leaders from a wide range of industries to share their stories of success with our middle school students.

February’s speaker was Abai Schulze, Founder of ZAAF, a company that produces luxury handbags and products based in Ethiopia. Ms. Schulze was born in Ethiopia and lived in a Catholic orphanage until she was adopted at age 11 by a family in Texas. After studying Economics at George Washington University, she returned to Ethiopia and worked to relearn the culture of her country through service trips and volunteering there. She dreamed of creating a business in Ethiopia that would break common stereotypes about the country, showcasing it instead as one that produces top quality goods, and in the process create jobs and a sustainable life for women in the country.

Abai Schulze Meets with WSG Middle School Students as Leadership Series Speaker

Ms. Schulze's journey to becoming a successful business woman is inspirational, and she shared a message of perseverance, confidence, and openness to learning with our students. She believes anyone can start a business if they have the right support system around them, and while she thinks of herself as a shy person she has realized the necessity of promoting herself and her business. She discussed the strengths she has found through collaboration with others to build her brand and how her international collaborations have extended her product line. She talked about product design and inspiration - illustrating how she makes design and operational decisions for her company.

It is important for our students to see and meet and interact with a variety of successful people, especially women: doing so helps them to form a vision for themselves, exposes them to new career options, and can inspire a dream they may not have previously had. It is particularly rewarding for our students to see young women of color who have achieved success in their lives. It perhaps makes their dreams seem more attainable, envisioning their future selves in these women. As young black and brown girls who are often marginalized with low expectations for their lives, presenting positive and uplifting messages of what they can believe about their future is critical.

Our students immediately related to Ms. Schulze’s message as her reflections offered life lessons, not just entrepreneurial lessons. Her connection with students was evident in the many and varied questions they posed to her. She also also helped the girls to envision Africa and Ethiopia in a different light than perhaps what they are used to seeing. For example, when a student asked about houses in Ethiopia, Ms. Schulze described it as a major city, much like Washington DC, with large beautiful homes in a metropolitan area. She shared a variety of photos of the country, emphasizing the diversity and beauty found throughout.

A few life and business lessons from Ms. Schulze:

  • Sometimes done is better than perfect - In business, you have to be prudent in the ways you allocate your time and focus. While that doesn’t mean settling for mediocre, it does mean deciding to keep things moving forward.

  • Be transparent and be authentic - Authenticity is a way for others to buy into your business, your brand, and what you offer.

  • Prioritize your worries - You need to know what to solve first.

  • Expect the unexpected and be ready to be creative in solving problems.

Ms. Schulze’s visit was a good opportunity for students to hear and learn from a young woman who has overcome challenges in her life and realized her dream of running a successful business. Ms. Schulze’s accomplishment in creating beautiful products, working to raise visibility for her home-county and commitment to building a business that uplifts women makes her a wonderful role model for our girls as they begin to imagine and define their purpose and passion.


If you know someone who would be a good contributor to our Leadership Series, please contact Susan Rockwell.

Washington School for Girls

THEARC Campus / 1901 Mississippi Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20020 / Phone: 202-678-1113 / Fax: 202-678-1114

The VIEW Campus / 1604 Morris Road SE, Washington, DC 20020 / Phone: 202-678-1714 / Fax: 202-678-5422

EIN: 52-2031849