School Without Walls (Washington, D.C.)

School Without Walls High School (SWW) is a small public magnet high school in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, D.C. It is colloquially referred to by students and faculty as "Walls". The school is based on a concept in urban education that encourages students to "use the city as a classroom", which is the origin of its name.[2]

School Without Walls
School Without Walls
School Without Walls
2130 G St., NW
Washington, D.C. 20037

United States
Coordinates38°53′53″N 77°2′53″W
TypePublic (exam school) secondary
School districtDCPS
PrincipalRichard Trogisch
Enrollment592 (2017-18)[1]
Color(s)Black      and white     

SWW provides a college-preparatory academic curriculum with 22 AP courses.[3] It is part of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) system and draws students from all parts of the city. Applicants must earn a 3.0 GPA and meet or exceed expectations on the PARCC exam during their eighth-grade year. Through the application process, they complete a multiple choice test, written essay, and interview with teachers and current students.[4]

As part of the school's partnership with George Washington University, teachers and students are able to take dual enrollment classes at the university.[5] Students in the GW Early College Program graduate with a high school diploma from School Without Walls and Associate of Arts degree from George Washington University.[6]

School history

The school was established in 1971 following the model of the Parkway Program in the School District of Philadelphia. The goal was to create a learning environment that offered an alternative to the conventional programs. They started with fifty students, six teachers, and one administrator.[7]

The school is located on the George Washington University (GWU) campus, on G Street intersecting 21st Street NW. Founded in 1971, the School Without Walls was originally located on the 8th floor of 1411 K St., an office building. In the fall of 1973 the school relocated to 10th and H Streets, N.W., where SWW shared space with the Webster Girls School program, a program for pregnant teens.

In August 2007, Walls was relocated to Capitol Hill in the Logan School building on G Street NE between Second and Third Streets NE (near Union Station and adjacent to the Securities & Exchange Commission headquarters). This temporary home was used for two years while the original building was renovated. The Logan School was renovated—including a new roof and internal work—during the summer of 2007 to accept students. In August 2009, The School Without Walls moved back into the Grant School following an opening ceremony by Mayor Adrian Fenty, DCPS chancellor Michelle Rhee and GWU President Steven Knapp.

In August 2011, School Without Walls was forced to temporarily close, because of damage sustained to the building's walls and roof during the earthquake and Hurricane Irene a few days later.[8]

In spite of resistance from parents and students, SWW merged with the nearby Francis-Stevens Education Campus, renamed School Without Walls at Francis Stevens, in 2014.[9] Francis-Stevens, which serves preschool through eighth grade, was underenrolled and slated for closure, while the School Without Walls building was too small for the student body. The two schools now share an administration, though Francis-Stevens is non-selective and graduates are not guaranteed entrance to School Without Walls High School. SWW students do not take classes at Francis-Stevens, because of the distance between the buildings and because Francis-Stevens quickly became more popular, attaining a waitlist of over 900 in 2016.[10]

Historic building

The School Without Walls facility, historically known as the Ulysses S. Grant School, is located in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood.

Prior to be taken over by School Without Walls, the building was badly deteriorated. There was extensive water damage throughout the school, 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.[11]

The old facade was kept intact while the inside was renovated and remodeled. A new building was added as an additional wing to accommodate increasing enrollment.

Student body

In 2010, 52% of SWW freshmen came from DCPS middle schools and 33% from charter middle schools.[12] The school received more than 1,300 applications for 140 spots in the freshman class for the 2018-19 school year.[13]

During the 2017-18 school year, SWW students were 43% Caucasian, 31% African-American, 12% Hispanic/Latino, 8% Asian, and 5% multiracial.[1] The student body was also 12% economically disadvantaged and 60% female.[14]

SWW has the lowest numbers of minority and at-risk students among DCPS high schools. In 2019, DCPS rolled out a pilot program to allow students ranked in the top 15 at their schools to take the SWW admissions test even if they had not met the minimum criteria of meeting or exceeding expectations on the PARCC. The objective was to determine if relaxing standardized testing requirements would diversify the SWW student body. However, as DCPS did not inform prospective parents of the program, the 226 students affected were not ultimately permitted to take the admissions test.[15]

Academic achievements

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.[16]

Art students have won numerous awards for their artwork—including 2011's National Cherry Blossom Festival Youth Poster Contest.[17]


In its public high school rankings for 2018, US News and World Report placed Walls first in the District of Columbia and 51st in the United States, as well as 11th among magnet schools nationally.[18]

2019 high school rankings from Niche listed Walls as the best public high school in the District of Columbia and the 36th best public magnet high school in the United States.[19]

Test scores

Walls has had the highest average SAT scores among DCPS high schools since the district began publishing data in 2013. The school's averaged combined score was 1272 in 2018.[20]

In 2018, 80% of Walls students who took an AP exam earned a passing score of at least 3.[21]

Sporting achievements

Walls competes in the DCIAA and offers the following sports: baseball, basketball, bowling, cheerleading, cross-country, field hockey, flag football, golf, indoor track, lacrosse, outdoor track, soccer, squash, swimming, softball, tennis, ultimate frisbee, and weightlifting.[22] Before the school adopted the penguin as its mascot, its teams were informally called the Walls.[23]

The SWW volleyball team won the school's first DCIAA title in 1997.[23] The Track and Field team went to the Penn Relay 2011. The softball team won the citywide championship in 2011 and 2012.

A Walls student won Gatorade Player of the Year for Girls Outdoor Track and Field in 2017, the first time a Walls student won that award in any sport.[24]

School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens

School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens
2425 N St NW
Washington, DC 20037
United States
TypePublic school
Head of schoolRichard Trogisch

School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens is a pre-K 3 to 8th-grade school that shares an administration with School Without Walls High School. It is located in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood and operated by DC Public Schools. Unlike the high school, it is a traditional public school that primarily accepts students based on its enrollment boundary. Students may also enroll through the DC School Lottery if there is available space. Middle school graduates are not guaranteed a place at School Without Walls High School. Instead, they feed into Cardozo Education Campus for ninth grade. Ross and Thomson elementary school graduates may transfer to Francis-Stevens in sixth grade.[25]

The school had issues with low enrollment for decades, creating the first extended-day program in the District of Columbia in 1977 in an effort to appeal to parents who worked in the neighborhood.[26] The persistent problem led to the merger of Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School and Francis Junior High School in 2008 and then the decision to close Francis-Stevens Education Campus in 2014.[27]

Notable alumna


  1. "School Profiles Home". Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  2. DeBonis, Mike (25 August 2011). "Why it's called the 'School Without Walls'". Washington DC. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  3. "School Without Walls High School". Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  4. "Applying to High School". My School DC. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  5. "School Without Walls". Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  6. "GWECP Associate of Arts Degree". School Without Walls of Washington, DC - Home & School Association. School Without Walls. 31 March 2013. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  7. School Without Walls of Washington, DC – Home & School Association » Our History
  8. 14 Schools without Power
  9. Brown, Emma (26 May 2014). "D.C.'s School Without Walls reopens admissions after failing to fill freshman class". Washington Post. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  10. Goldchain, Michelle (17 August 2017). "Stevens School to undergo $20M renovation, reopen as child development center". Curbed DC. Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  11. "University finalizes deal with School Without Walls". College Media Network. February 13, 2006. Archived from the original on June 16, 2011. Retrieved April 5, 2010.
  12. Turque, Bill (9 September 2011). "Which schools feed Banneker and Walls?". Washington Post. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  13. Parker, William D. (1 November 2018). "PMP:131 School Without Walls – Interview with Richard Trogisch". William D. Parker. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  14. "DCPS High School Booklet" (PDF). District of Columbia Public Schools. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  15. Stein, Perry. "D.C. had a plan to diversify one of its most selective high schools". Washington Post. Retrieved 20 May 2019.
  16. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-11-05. Retrieved 2011-04-15.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. "School Without Walls High School". US News and World Report. US News and World Report. Retrieved 31 July 2018.
  19. "The School Without Walls High School Rankings". Niche. Niche. Retrieved 31 July 2018.
  20. "DCPS Data Set - SAT". District of Columbia Public Schools. Retrieved 31 July 2018.
  21. "AP Score Data Sets". District of Columbia Public Schools. Retrieved 31 July 2018.
  22. "Sports Offered By School". District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  23. Rubin, Mitch. "SCHOOL WITHOUT WALLS IS NOT WITHOUT A TITLE". The Washington Post. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  25. "School Without Walls @ Francis-Stevens". Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  26. "Educating Amy: The incredible history of a DC public school that taught a president's daughter". WTOP. 14 August 2017. Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  27. "DC has plans to reopen historic school closed for nearly a decade". WTOP. 17 August 2017. Retrieved 7 February 2019.
  28. "Camille Hyde". IMDB. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  29. Schimmel, Greg (2011-06-15). "School Without Walls' Camille Hyde wins DCIAA girls' singles title for third year in a row". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-04-04.
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