School Without Walls attempts to provide a strict learning environment. The George Washington University Partnership, examined below, is one manner in which School Without Walls expands the curriculum of its students. Additionally, the school uses science labs at the University of the District of Columbia, has a standing partnership with the Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson law firm, and an informal journalism internship program with the George Washington University student newspaper, the GW Hatchet. The school has in the past conducted classes at the United States Capitol, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Aquarium, the National Zoo, the Botanical Gardens and other academic resources available in the city. In doing so, it offers certain opportunities and privileges not common to other high schools.
School Without Walls is located on the Foggy Bottom Campus and has a working academic partnership with George Washington University.
Beginning in 2009, the program allows a select number of students to become dually-enrolled in GWU and in DCPS. George Washington University provides classes free of charge to a small number of students through their junior and senior years of high school. Students apply for this highly competitive program in their sophomore year. If accepted they are enrolled full-time at both the university and at School Without Walls; meaning by the year of their high school graduation they receive an Associate of Arts degree and a high school diploma. The students have access to opportunities through both institutions: library access, internships, research opportunities, etc. The ECP program is tuition free and the matriculating students have the option to either stay at the university or go elsewhere for further education after they receive their degree. Requirements include a minimum GPA of 3.0, a PSAT score of at least 150, and completion of the application process.
Enrolling into the George Washington University's Columbian College of the Arts and Sciences, the students get the opportunity to engage in a rigorous liberals arts curriculum, featuring a wide range of courses in the humanities, sciences, and mathematics. Taking advantage of the program's opportunity to nurture personal independence, the scholars are allowed the agency to choose a maximum of five three or four credit-courses each semester out of the 100+ courses offered at the university, however, as a safety net these choices must be approved by the Program Director. Classes are chosen along with consideration to the required set of courses approved by the District of Columbia Public School system that will satisfy the completion of the high school curriculum. Rigor is strongly encouraged, but it advised that students make honest wise choices with regards to their personal strengths and capabilities. A minimum of sixty credit hours are required for each student to graduate with an Associates of the Arts Degree from GWU, and to ensure that the students are successful in meeting the credit requirements for the Columbian College the program has been designated Academic Advisor, who meets with each student over the course of their two years to discuss proposed scheduling, incomplete requirements, and logistical concerns with the university's administration. While the opportunity to earn an associate degree while in high school is a remarkable accomplishment that all candidates strive to meet, the program puts priority on each students completion of their high school course work. The George Washington University may not grant a degree to any student who has not officially completed the School Without Walls Program. As of 2013, all students enrolled in the program have graduated with both a high school diploma and Associates of the Arts degree. Should a student need to complete a class not offered by the university (e.g. Physical Education), arrangements may be made conjunction with the School Without Walls to have the student enrolled in a high school level course built around their full-time schedules at the university.
Prior to beginning the fall semester of junior year, or freshman year at the George Washington University, students must partake in a two-week orientation and the end of the DCPS academic school-year in June, during which they engage in a series of tours, university sponsored events, lectures and workshops that will familiarize them with the school and provide insight into developing personal tools that are essential to success at any institution of higher learning including, but not limited to, strong note taking skills and an understanding of how to network in and outside of the academic community. Following this orientation, after a roughly two week vacation, students will begin their first course, a six-week university writing seminar specifically tailored to reinforce the students skill for writing on a scholarly level. Full matriculation into the program requires the completion of this writing seminar with no less than a B average.
The opportunities presented to the scholars by the George Washington University are copious and offer each the unique opportunity to expand their perspectives as an academics and world citizens, cultivate their interests, and set foundations for the future educational and career endeavors. An assortment of student run organizations are open for the students to find the perfect niche in the university that will help them refine their interests and use their passions as a vehicle to engage in the broader DC community. A limited survey of extra curricular activities explored by students in the program include the Black Students Union, the Philippine Culture Club, and curating at the student run "Gallery 102." The George Washington University Career Center is open to all students and provides resources for building résumés, finding internship opportunities on the college level and setting planes for future careers in their field of interest. Students also have to opportunity to meet privately with professor and department chairs through appoint or office hours, broadening their pool of academic and professional references and opening the door for acquiring letters of recommendation, which will be essential in the undergraduate application process in senior year.
All of the students who have completed the program have found great success in their post-graduate endeavors, being offered acceptance into a variety of the nation's top Ivy League Institutions, liberal arts colleges and other universities well within the top 100 in the nation.
School Without Walls has another academic program for students who would like to enroll in college level courses without making a commitment as large as the ECP program requires. The Exposure Program is a program by which students at Walls, beginning the summer after their sophomore year, are eligible to take one class per college semester at either George Washington University, American University, Georgetown University, or at the University of the District of Columbia.
Students must apply each semester, and are enrolled in these classes in addition to their high school coursework. The requirements include a minimum GPA of 3.0 and completion of the application process.
Beginning in their sophomore year, students attend trips to sites in Anacostia and beyond the Washington, D.C. area. Gilder Lehrman provides visiting historians to serve as guest lecturers and seminar leaders. The Institute further assists with college-placement counseling and provides Walls students access to the Institute's contacts at colleges and universities. Students are given opportunities to interact with their peers enrolled in Gilder Lehrman programs and schools throughout the country. By providing supplemental resources books and materials, packages of documents replicated from the Gilder Lehrman Collection, traveling exhibits from the Institute's national program of exhibitions on specific themes in American history, and keepsake documents from the collection, as well as scholarship opportunities, Gilder Lehrman provides learning opportunities that might otherwise be unavailable.
In the 2004–2005 school year School Without Walls students took their first Gilder Lehrman sponsored trip to Williamsburg. This trip provided a first-hand look at colonial life in America. To enhance the study of the foundation of American democracy, a visit to the New York Historical Society gave students an opportunity to witness the influence of Alexander Hamilton on American government. The class also takes a spring visit to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to expand the study of American History and Culture into the American Civil War period.
School Without Walls takes pride in consistently ranking among the top schools in the DCPS system in terms of graduation rate, average SAT score, attendance rate and other academic benchmarks.
DCPS' school profile for Walls states that "SWW provides a quality student-centered environment that maximizes integrative, interactive, experiential learning within the framework of a humanities approach. This program is achieved by using the city and the world as a classroom. The school is a model of collaboration among students, staff, families, business partners, and the community." Walls was named a National Blue Ribbon School September 9, 2010, one of only 304 schools nationwide. The Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes and honors public and private elementary, middle and high schools whose students achieve at very high levels or have made significant progress and helped close gaps in achievement, especially among disadvantaged and minority students.
Only two other DCPS schools have earned this distinction in the past three years: Murch and Noyes Elementary schools.
School Without Walls is also well known for having a 100% graduation rate, and 100% of the graduates are accepted into a four-year college.
The Street Law students recently won a citywide mock trial, and arts students have won numerous awards for their artwork—including 2011's National Cherry Blossom Festival Youth Poster Contest.
School Without Walls has the highest combined SAT scores in DCPS with an average combined score of 2074.
The Creative Expressions club is a gathering of about 30 students with a variety of artistic interests. Similar to their Drama Club, Creative Expressions allows students to engage in various forms of the arts.
One of the oldest clubs at Walls, the Debate Team meet biweekly to discuss issues of local, domestic, and international importance. They are one of the top ranked teams of the Washington Area Catholic Forensics League.
This is a class where concepts of law are taught to students by Georgetown University Law Center students and a practicing attorney ending with a citywide mock trial. The 1992 School Without Walls Mock Trial Team won the citywide competition and went on to compete at the National Competition in Wisconsin. This was also the year Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson partnered with School Without Walls.
The 2008-2009 street law team got to the final round of the D.C. mock trial tournament, losing to Bell Multicultural High School. However, the 2010-2011 plaintiff team won the citywide title against Duke Ellington at finals.
International Connections Club, also known as ICC, was founded in 2012 by the school's multicultural students for the awareness of international cultures and proliferation of international connections at SWW. Among ICC's accomplishments are organizing DCPS's largest book drive to partnering schools in Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, and Russia. ICC also stages international fashion shows, performances, and plays at SWW's International Day assembly. Whenever foreign guests and dignitaries visit SWW, ICC employs the student body to welcome these guests into the environment.
Also known as SASS, this club is an initiative by the DC Rape Crisis Center to encourage adolescent girls to explore relationships and issues that are important to them as women in an open and accepting environment.
Also known as GIN, the SWW chapter of this network was founded in 2011 by politically active students. The school helps host a GIN Conference every year, through its partnership with the Washington International School's chapter of GIN. The club meets once a week and discusses current events around the world, as well as works on planning the conference.
The School Without Walls chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers is composed of approximately 40 minority students interested in pursuing a career in engineering.
The School Without Walls Model United Nations team was founded in the fall of 2011 in cooperation with the Elliott School of International Affairs and the International Affairs Society of the George Washington University. Mentors (or MUNtors), typically from GWU's own illustrious Model UN team, come to Walls on behalf of IAS's child organization, GWUPIE (The George Washington University's Program for International Education) to conduct trainings and exercises biweekly. The team is one of the most decorated academic teams at SWW. The team has consistently won delegation awards at college conferences. Within their first two years of existence, they were recognized as a Top 25 team in the Mid-Atlantic Region. The following year they were ranked in the top 25 Model UN teams nationally, according to the national Model UN seeding organization, Best Delegate.
Since 2012, SWW's Model UN team has been sending delegations to compete in Academic WorldQuest, a world affairs trivia competition organized by the World Affairs Councils of America. There are 360 teams nationwide that compete in Academic WorldQuest annually, 45 of whom will reach the national finals. Walls' team is currently ranked 6th in the nation.
The Science Bowl / It's Academic team competes in academic competitions.
The School Without Walls chapter of the National Honor Society has over seventy members.
The Green Team at School Without Walls works to make it more energy efficient and environmentally friendly place. New recycling bins and many architectural aspects help with this mission. The Recycling Club also works at this goal.
The School Without Walls delegation of the YMCA Youth and Government program has been active for several years. Students research and prepare bills on local issues and bring them for debate with other area high school students to the annual Legislative Weekend conference. School Without Walls has been very successful, including winning the Outstanding Delegation Award and having two of their students elected to top positions within the program in 2016.
There are many other clubs in School Without Walls, including Graphic Novel/Manga club, Ethics Club, Japanese Culture Club, Cheese Club, Hip Hop Dance Crew, Gender Sexuality Alliance, Latin Club (National Junior Classical League affiliate), Literary Journal/Newspaper, Skiing, Longboarding, Rubix Cube club, Yearbook, Student Government, Model Congress, Feminist Book Club, Science Bowl, and Chess Club. There are opportunities to create your own club, as well as join them, providing a community for a wide variety of interests.
The historic Grant School, the building that houses The School Without Walls, was badly deteriorated. There was extensive water damage throughout the school as well. The brick facade needed to be repainted, and the slate roof was steadily losing its shingles. On February 13, 2006 the D.C. City Council and the George Washington University Board of Trustees approved a deal for $12 million to renovate and expand the school building in exchange for transfer of the school's rear parking lot property to the university.
The old facade was kept intact while the inside was renovated and remodeled to better fit the needs of Walls students. In addition, an entirely new building was added as an additional wing to accommodate the constantly increasing enrollment. The new Walls features science labs in the basement, bathrooms and teacher spaces on each floor, and plenty of huge windows and natural lighting. Each classroom has a Promethean board, only one example of the new technology installed in the building. The entire building has wireless internet access as well.
The area where there used to be a parking lot and tennis courts is now the site of South Hall, a new GWU dormitory. Both buildings are LEED certified.
In August 2011, School Without Walls was forced to temporarily close, ironically because of damage sustained to the building's walls and roof during the earthquake and Hurricane Irene a few days later.
While Walls has a very small pool of students from which to select its athletes, they do quite well in many sports, consistently placing 2nd in men's baseball. Finishing first has been deemed nearly impossible as Woodrow Wilson High School has won for more than a decade.
Walls has many other sports programs including: tennis, soccer, crew, basketball, baseball, girls' volleyball, softball, golf, lacrosse, track and field, and skiing are all available. The Track and Field team went to the Penn Relay 2011. The softball team won citywide championships in 2011, beating out rivals from Wilson in the semifinals and Anacostia in the finals. The team had lost to both in the regular season, so the championship win came as a rewarding surprise. They reciprocated their win in 2012 by winning another city title. Lacrosse was recently made available to School Without Walls, along with Ballou and Coolidge High Schools. Girls' field hockey was also made available recently.