Congressional School keeps an eye firmly on tradition while introducing some new components to the classroom as it enters its 80th year in operation, 60 of which have been in Falls Church.
When Edwin P. Gordon took over as Congressional’s new head of school in July, he found himself at the helm of a polished product. To him, a commitment to educating young children on the basics and giving them space to grow individually was honored by a faculty invested in the school’s central mission.
A retention rate that hovers, according to Gordon, just under 90 percent for children who started at Congressional School in pre-K and completed graduation in the eighth grade is a sign that parents and students buy into the work the school does as well. It’s why Gordon’s first move is to show his appreciation for what’s been done right and not try to reinvent the wheel in his first year on the job.
“I don’t come in with any assumptions about what’s broken here,” Gordon said, who added that he’s using his inaugural year at the 40 acre campus to absorb every aspect of its functioning. “I want to continue to build on the excellence that we do here, and then take us to a higher level.”
Chief among his directives is to make sure the school is suited for 21st century learners. The common perception that today’s students suffer from shortened attention spans is countered by Gordon, who views it instead as children being raised to multi-task and driven by curiosity. The ability to bounce between tasks in different subject matters demonstrates to Gordon that children are equipped to handle the torrent pace of change taking place in the world.
A new program debuting at Congressional School this fall seeks to harness that adaptability in a classroom setting. Focusing on the intersections of liberal arts and the sciences, the “design labs” intend to put a twist on the conventional isolated approach to teaching subjects and encourage the faculty to communicate across disciplines to come up with assignments.
As an example, Gordon mentioned how younger students may be asked to read a story and then construct a solution to a problem the story presented with arts and crafts materials. For older students at the middle school level, this has typically been done with their capstone projects. A Congressional student last year, for instance, had her work cover equine therapy, and used a combination of STEM and the arts to offer a remedy to the problem she identified.
“We want to create an atmosphere where students know what they just learned from a story, can come up with questions about that story and can find a solution that actually has some kind of impact,” Gordon added. “These are kids that really think about how to make a difference.”
Congressional School plans to incorporate the celebration of its 80th anniversary into traditionally big events at the school. A fall festival in October plans to add some anniversary flair, as will the annual gala the school holds at the end of March and the graduating class for the 2019-20 will be acknowledged as Congressional’s 80th in its history.