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Opinion

A high-quality school anchors a changing neighborhood

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Opinion,Education,Op-Eds

Neighborhoods are changing throughout the District of Columbia. The newly rebranded NoMa community, a long-neglected area south of K Street, has seen much development since the Metro station which bears its name was opened.

Close to the intersection of New York and Florida Avenues in Northeast D.C., Two Rivers receives city funds to provide tuition-free public education, filling available places on a first come, first served basis. The school is one of 57 D.C. public charter schools that together educate 43 percent of all District children enrolled in public schools.

Free to decide their own school curriculum and culture, charters are held accountable for improved student performance on the city's standardized reading and math tests, as well as other performance measures, such as attendance and governance.

D.C. charter schools are not given a building by the city; they must find their own space for a new or expanded school. Two Rivers attempted to negotiate for 20 sites -- before finding warehouse space requiring substantial renovation.

Fortunately, the founders persevered. Today, Two Rivers educates 450 pre-K through eighth-grade students on two campuses -- the original renovated space, plus a new building across the street.

Two Rivers is one of only 20 D.C. charter schools classified as "high performing" by the city's charter board. Some 73 percent of the school's elementary school students pass D.C.'s standardized tests; 69 percent of the middle school students do the same.

To place the school's reading and math scores in context, Two Rivers' elementary students score 29 percentage points higher, and its middle school students 21 percentage points higher, than do students in city-run D.C. public schools overall.

Importantly, while the school's students perform very well on reading and math tests, they learn much more.

Two Rivers is an expeditionary learning school, using an academically rigorous, project-based educational method grounded in research. Students learn by solving problems, not by rote memorization.

The school aims to foster students' ability to work with others; to be reflective, self-critical and adaptable; to learn early in life to analyze what is before them and synthesize information; and to collaborate with others to generate solutions. As they learn, students engage the many resources of our city.

The premise of the school's founders is that by teaching students how to learn from the earliest age, they will become lifelong learners, able to master the 21st-century skills needed.

Two Rivers students, educated in the art of mastering difficult tasks, need only to look at their innovative school buildings as an example. Two Rivers was built in partnership with local architect Milton Shinberg of local firm Shinberg Levinas. Many challenges were met in the process.

While renovating warehouse space was not the school's first choice, the formerly abandoned building that today houses its elementary school campus accommodates a common area and playground space. Squares of glass on the ground floor let in light on the previously windowless wall facing busy Florida Avenue. The nearby middle school campus has added gymnasium space and a roof garden.

NoMa is changing fast -- a large apartment and retail complex is being built at the junction of New York and Florida Avenues, a grocery store recently arrived, and thousands of square feet of new office space are being constructed. Previously, the traffic intersection and three drive-through fast-food outlets dominated the landscape.

Two Rivers will continue to be a part of this thriving community as it grows, develops and changes. Our students will continue to be involved in many aspects of community service. Schools are a vital part of all of our communities. What better contribution to the area than a high-performing public school?

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