Emerson Preparatory School (also known as Emerson) is a small private high school in Northwest Washington, D.C., founded in 1852 as the Emerson Institute. It is Washington's oldest co-ed college preparatory school.
Following World War II, in 1946, Emerson adopted its current academic program providing classes on a term system in which classes are completed in full during each 4 1⁄2-month term. Following graduation, 95% of graduates attend a four-year college and 5% attend a two-year college or take a gap year before attending college. Emerson offers an intellectually stimulating array of courses in an informal and relaxed atmosphere. The school serves high school students from Maryland, DC, and Virginia.
The school is located at 1324 18th Street NW, near Dupont Circle and Embassy Row. Most students ride the Metro to and from school. Emerson has occupied its present location since 1937.
Emerson was founded in the District of Columbia in 1852 by Charles Bedford Young, Ph.D., as a school to prepare Washington area boys for entrance to Harvard. It was named for George Barrell Emerson, a noted New England educator, author, and Harvard graduate (1817). After the Civil War the school's graduates began to attend other colleges and universities, and, in 1920, became Washington's first coeducational preparatory school.
Notable Emerson graduates include Kate Grinold (2003), who was crowned Miss District of Columbia in June 2008 and who represented the District in 2009's Miss America Pageant, movie actor, and vocalist of the alternative rock band 30 Seconds To Mars Jared Leto (class of 1989), science fiction author William F. Gibson (1970), and musician Brian Baker (1983). Judge John "Maximum John" Sirica of Watergate fame attended Emerson circa 1920. Buck and Jesse Root Grant, the sons of President Ulysses S. Grant, attended Emerson Institute during his White House years, 1869-1877. Medal of Honor recipient James Madison Cutts, Jr. graduated from Emerson Institute around 1854. He went on to graduate from Brown University and Harvard Law School.
Emerson's school seal features an image of the U.S. Capitol dome and the date 1852. The school mascot is the owl, symbolizing wisdom.
Emerson's model places strong emphasis on small class sizes, typically never larger than ten students, and the use of the term system. The school requires student applicants to submit three letters of recommendation, participate in a personal interview, and take two placement exams, one in English and one in mathematics.
The school's academic year is modeled after the British System and has two terms per year rather than two semesters. Courses are completed in full during each 4 1⁄2-month term. An optional summer session is offered from late June through early August (six weeks). Each term's schedule of classes includes four ninety-minute class periods per day, five days per week. There is a one-hour lunch period, from 11:20 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. Emerson students have the privilege of off campus lunch. The students are allowed to leave the school grounds in order to purchase their lunch from the many restaurants and carry outs located in the Dupont Circle area.
Emerson has approximately ten to fifteen teachers. A typical classload for an instructor is two to three 90-minute classes per day. Apart from the traditional curriculum, private tutorials can be arranged for advanced level courses.
These administrative policies contribute to the excellent character and quality of the teachers, who form the backbone of the faculty. Any given school year has a core group of teachers who have been with the school for at least five years.
Emerson draws many of its teachers from among the disciplines in which they actually work: it is not unusual for scientists, writers, economists, language scholars, lawyers, and historians to work as teachers. Some Emerson teachers are mid-career in their fields, others are retired, while others are early-career, or in the final stages of their masters' or doctorate degree programs.
Teachers are drawn to Emerson because it gives them the freedom to structure creative curricula, design unique and advanced level courses, and set their own classroom rules. Some Emerson classes are run strictly while others are more relaxed. One instructor currently incorporates periods of relaxation and meditation techniques into ongoing lessons, while another has been known to assign as many as sixteen books in a single term, teaching at a level of rigor comparable to advanced undergraduate work. The students can select many of their classes and can request certain teachers.
Emerson course offerings have included:Information Literacy
Post World War II American Novel
East Asian Studies
Advanced Topics in Science (or as it came to be known, "Advanced Spaceships")
Biography: Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin and Karl Marx
Twentieth Century American Cultural History (nicknamed "That Seventies Class" by students)
Issues in Science II: Zoology and Oceanography
Vocabulary Skills: The Story of English
Theory of Knowledge/Intro to Philosophy
Introduction to Law.
Many of these classes were requested by students, or designed by teachers on the basis of discussions and interests revealed by faculty and students in a previous term. Students often participate in the planning of a class, although final course selections are determined by the school director in accordance with the overall needs of the student body during a given term.
Classes for the spring term of 2008 included one on military history entitled War and Peace-20th Century Foreign Policy, Economics, and Japanese Language. The core academic courses such as Algebra, Geometry, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, English Composition, Literature, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, U.S. History, American Government, and Foreign Languages are offered each term.
Emerson's daily ninety-minute class periods provide teachers with time to structure their classes to include more discussion, in-depth individual or teamwork, and extended lessons in a single day. Many teachers use the extra time for multimedia presentations like movies or music relevant to the course.
Field trips are an integral part of the Emerson program. Classes take numerous field trips throughout the city each term.
Emerson has a diverse student population, with students as young as 10 and as old as 20 years old, as well as students from all parts of the world. The Emerson environment is casual and friendly. It is not uncommon for students to leave larger schools because of social or academic issues, come to Emerson, feel comfortable, and quickly find themselves able to manage what was too hard or overwhelming before. Emerson is welcoming and flexible. Each new student is hand-selected, so Emerson is able to select students based on more than just transcripts and reports. Emerson admits many teenagers who have struggled in other school settings, when the admissions team is confident that the student will be able to succeed in the very nurturing and manageable Emerson environment.
A student must earn a minimum of 24 units of credit to graduate from Emerson Preparatory School. Emerson is a tuition based school. The current tuition is $25,000 per school year. Students graduate within three years and over 95% of them go straight on to college. Other graduates take a gap year following graduation in order to pursue other interests before enrolling in college. Emerson has a limited number of formal scholarships available each year. Emerson admits students from a wide variety of racial, ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds.
During its early history, Emerson had sports and drama, teams when it was first founded and later under the direction of Dean John J. Humphrey, the school's headmaster from 1939–1999, but since 1946 Emerson's main focus and strength has been on academics and preparing students for college level work. Emerson encourages its students to form clubs.
Emerson occupies an historic building in the Dupont Circle area of downtown DC. The building has 9 classrooms, a science laboratory, a reading room, a conference room, and a library/computer room where students can study or use the computers to do research on the internet. The school also has wireless internet, which is great for students who prefer to bring their own laptops to school. There is an attractive and private courtyard behind the school building. During the Spring, Summer and early Fall, some teachers will hold an occasional class in the courtyard. During the Spring of 2008, the courtyard underwent a major renovation. The new courtyard was re-opened to students and teachers on June 24, 2008.