When students in Carlton Ackerman's AP geography class were asked what their favorite part of the new School Without Walls building was, one female student was quick to answer: Bathrooms.
A minor aspect of a two-year, $39 million renovation that culminated in an August ribbon-cutting ceremony with D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, D.C. Public School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, and University President Steven Knapp, the new restrooms are a welcome addition for students who remember having to take the stairs to the basement to the only bathrooms in the school.
Many of the students and teachers are grateful for even the most minor of the renovations. That the ceiling no longer falls down on students in class. That the heat and air conditioning now work. That the basement doesn't flood anymore when it rains.
"I used to be in Spanish class and some of the windows were broken, so we had to wear our coats inside because it was so cold," senior Malika Morris said. "I'm just happy to be back, really. And being a senior and being in the new building, it just feels really nice. And it feels like coming home."
The renovations have also brought new opportunities to students. Promethium boards, which are interactive whiteboards that allow teachers to store notes electronically, hang in the classrooms. New science labs mean that not only can students complete lab work without having to leave the building, but the school now offers AP biology in addition to AP physics. An advanced media room means students will be able to communicate online with schools in Ghana and Nigeria, where 20 School Without Walls students will be heading next week as part of a $370,000 grant from the State Department for a Reading Across Continents exchange program.
"The new facility allows us to really be international in our scope and produce citizens not only of D.C. and the United States, but of the world," principal Richard Trogisch said. "It allows them to have a much better understanding, to be able to compete and understand the global economy. And get along with people."
But returning to the Foggy Bottom building also affords students scholastic opportunities unavailable at the Logan School building near Union Station, where they were relocated in 2007 to accommodate the renovations. Students can now study full-time at GW and graduate high school with an associate degree from the University, take GW classes for college credit before and after the school day, and use GW facilities for assemblies, graduation and open houses. The partnership is mutually beneficial, however, with GW graduate students using School Without Walls classes in the evening.
"I have handled the applications for the GW courses, and the students just have a lot more options now that we're back on campus," counselor Lauren Dietz said. "So whereas last year, taking a class before school wasn't really an option because of travel time needed to get over to the other building, we have a few students who take 8 a.m. classes in Funger, and come catty-corner here for 8:45."
For Morris, the reconstruction has given her additional pride in her alma mater.
"I think it gives us a little more recognition and more people will know about us because I remember freshman year when people would ask me what school I went to, I'd say, 'School Without Walls,' and they'd say 'What school is that?' But now I say I go to School Without Walls and they're like, 'Oh the new school in GW,'" Morris said. "And that's my school! So it feels good."