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Remodeled school ‘feels a bit like home’

‘The old Washington was 108 years old. There were cracks in the cement and it was a bit dirty,” wrote my son Owen, a current fifth-grader at Washington Elementary.

He’s right. No matter how clean the school, it looked a little worse for wear.

Today, he and his first-grade brother head off to a newly remodeled school each morning.Today – and every day for the past month – as we walk the three blocks to school I am thankful to be back in my Washington Elementary neighborhood.

In the morning, I am thankful for the time to talk with my boys about the day ahead and count slugs (our record is 22), greet neighbors out walking their dogs and meet friends for coffee in Proctor.

In the afternoons I am thankful for the families who stay to play and chat in the schoolyard, the insights into the boys’ days that I learn as they balance on the neighbor’s retaining wall and the few extra blocks we walk to pick up food at the grocery store.

Every day I am thankful that our community invested in our students and our neighborhood.

Our children have a sense of place that, while present in the old building, now shines in the remodeled school. As my kids observed the first day, “it feels a little bit like home.” (Our house was built in 1906, just like the school.)

Our neighbors now note – with a sigh of relief that the construction is over – an increased vitality both in the streetscape created by the remodeled school and with all the families walking around Proctor.

We should all feel a sense of pride for our collective investment in Washington Elementary and in schools all across our city. We cannot thank you enough for what you have done for our children.

But don’t just take my word for it. I did a little studying up on school buildings and it turns out that a growing body of research links student achievement and behavior to physical building conditions. I learned that our investments in schools can boost morale and improve student achievement, by up to 11 percent according to one study of the District of Columbia Public School System.

Working in Urban Schools says that building renovations led to "a renewed sense of hope, of commitment, a belief that the district cared about what went on in that building." I believe your investment in our students, while already apparent, will bring even greater reward in our students’ future success.

But what speaks louder to me than any research, or even my own experience, are the words of the students at our school. As Owen said after his first day, “The new Washington is amazing. We have drinking fountains in our classrooms, motion sensor lights, and smart boards. As I sat down at my new desk – with a slider tray! – I was excited to explore a new school!”

Come explore the new Washington Elementary with Owen and his classmates this Saturday during tours from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. They’d love to show it off, and we’d love to thank you for your investment in our children.

Courteney Chamberlin is a co-president of Washington Elementary PTA.