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Falls Church’s Congressional School Rebrands

A CONGRESSIONAL SCHOOL STUDENT works on a math assignment in one of his classes on Friday, Oct. 28. The school recently changed its name from the Congressional Schools of Virginia to just Congressional School. (Photo: Drew Costley/News-Press)
A CONGRESSIONAL SCHOOL STUDENT works on a math assignment in one of his classes on Friday, Oct. 28. The school recently changed its name from the Congressional Schools of Virginia to just Congressional School. (Photo: Drew Costley/News-Press)

Congressional School on Sleepy Hollow Road in Falls Church “is not ‘one size fits all,’” says Janet Marsh, head of the school.

“We care about everyone here, and we get to know each child and their family,” said Marsh, explaining her school’s “very individualist approach” to education.

Congressional has recently completed a rebranding of the school, which included reverting back to the school’s old name. Last year, the school was called Congressional Schools of Virginia. This year, it’s back to Congressional School. The school’s rebranding campaign includes five characteristics, including being “dedicated to young learners,” which addresses its holistic approach and attention to every child.

With Alyce Penn, the school’s director of communications, Marsh described Congressional, named for its proximity to Washington and the U.S. Congress.

Founded in 1939 as a pre-school in Arlington, Congressional grew so fast, it moved in 1942 to the former home of General George S. Patton before settling in Falls Church in 1960.

It expanded to include all grades, but “retired” the high school in 1987 to open doors to infants and toddlers. Now with its summer camp, Congressional has a “steady enrollment” of 325 and accepts children from six weeks through eighth grade.

Amy Kang is the president of the Parents Association who gave up her ob-gyn practice two years ago to devote more time to raising her three children, all students at Congressional. They live in Vienna.

“It’s nice to have all three there,” she said in a telephone interview.”They enjoy seeing each other at school.” She laughed: “They like each other.”
What’s the best thing about Congressional?

“I feel like it’s a wonderful community where everybody’s really engaged in the success of my kids. Academically and socially, it’s a nice place to be. It’s a great price range if you’re paying for independent school. It’s definitely a deal.”

Tuition ranges from $23,000 for infants and toddlers up to $26,500 for children in grades five through eight with discounts for siblings.

Parent Richard Giardina said for him and his family, “it’s a one stop school.”

He and his wife, Michele Samford, “decided we’d rather invest in our children’s education than in an expensive house.” They’ve lived in their Springfield home for 16 years.

Congressional’s campus includes 40 acres with 14 horses, a swimming pool, ropes course, zip line and outdoor classes.

“It’s like a country club for children, one that I can afford, in a very safe environment,” Giardina said.

Three graduates interviewed by phone played sports at Congressional and in high school. Congressional prides itself on its 90 percent participation rate among middle schoolers in team sports.
“No one is cut. Everyone is allowed to play,” Marsh said.

The alumni mentioned the friendships they developed at Congressional, and the confidence skills instilled by their experiences and the teachers, one of whom, John Cavanaugh has been teaching at Congressional 41 years.

ONE OF THE KINDERGARTEN CLASSES took their learning outside recently. (Photo: Drew Costley/News-Press)
ONE OF THE KINDERGARTEN CLASSES took their learning outside recently. (Photo: Drew Costley/News-Press)

In the 2016 Washington Post Teacher of the Year competition, Cavanaugh was the only independent school teacher to become a finalist, Marsh said.

Ankush Joshi, a Vienna resident who played soccer, basketball, cross-country and track at Congressional is on the baseball team and a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

“I definitely enjoyed [Congressional]” where his mom is a teacher, Joshi said.

He appreciated “the socials and academic skills” he gained at Congressional “to help you later in life.”

If any alums have a complaint, it’s that there are too few reunions.

Daniel Anderson’s family lives across the street from Congressional where he spent most of his life from the time he was about 18 months old until he finished eighth grade and went to TJ.

Now a senior at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, majoring in mechanical engineering, Anderson said what he liked best about Congressional were the friends he made. He still stays in touch with them.

“A lot of great teachers” helped him “develop good study habits,” too.

Neha Ratnapuri said her ten years at Congressional “definitely prepared me for the environment at Georgetown” Day School, where she’s a sophomore.

“Especially socially. I was able to go into a very large school and still be confident. It’s been easier for me to make friends. I’m not as shy or held back [like] a lot of the other kids.”
Marsh, who’s been head since 2012, said Congressional’s biggest competitor is “the strong reputation” of Fairfax County schools.

Congressional students come mostly from Northern Virginia, but there are four from China who live with local families.

Congressional was one of the founders of “Emerging Scholars” which recognize underserved and talented students whose families cannot afford private school tuition. A 14-month academic program prepares them for the independent school environment, and they can receive need-based financial aid.

Since Congressional requires uniforms, “no one knows who they are,” Marsh said. Sometimes these students are the first in their families to attend college. One of Congressional’s Emerging Scholars graduates is at Stanford University.

The school’s mission has evolved over its years. Its vision statement focuses on “great thinkers” who will “positively impact our world,” and the mission’s “overarching shift” has moved from a “product-based” emphasis to more “process-based,” said Marsh.

“There’s a high bar here. We want to be student centered” and at the same time, “raise the awareness level of Congressional since it’s a hidden gem. It’s like reading a good book and you want to share the story.”

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