Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Phelps Raising the Bar for DC Education

Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of touring the District's newest and most unique high school, Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering Career High School. Think of it as vocational technology 2.0. Its more than that though. During the year in which DC has taken some very public criticism (88% can't read, presidential debaters mentioned the troubled system) Phelps has opened and demonstrates all that is going right for the District of Columbia Public Schools.

The school is a traditional high school in the sense that students still compete a core curriculum with English, of course, mathematics, art, music and all the other requirements of graduating DCPS. However, during their sophomore year, students begin tailoring the remainder of their high school career into one of three tracks; architecture, construction or engineering. The learning spaces and resources are unbelievable. A construction equipment simulation room (cost = $80,000+) gives students a chance to work the controls of actual vehicles and observe physical forces at work. Everything is geared towards teachable moments: water, electrical and data wires and piping were intentionally left exposed, color coded and are used to make the building a teaching tool, the courtyard is surrounded by brick walls with patterns that will be taught in class, and the walls and flooring in hallways are tiled with patterns and materials straight from the textbooks.

The Phelps building is in the Langdon Park, a part of Kingman Park in Northeast. The address is 704 26th Street NE, about two blocks from Springarn High and less than a mile from Eastern High School. This year there are only freshman attending the school, but the principal and DCPS are looking forward to fully populating the school over the next three years. They have a wish list of items related to the building arts such as magazines, journals and other trade publications. Contact the school if you'd like to help them out. I was very impressed with the facilities and program; a move in the right direction for DC schools.