DC International charter school unveils new Walter Reed campus

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DC International is a charter program that feeds from bilingual elementary schools. (photo by Victor Fernandez)

The DC International School welcomed students to Delano Hall this week for the start of classes in its new campus, located at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center site near 16th and Aspen streets NW.

The building has gone through a major renovation over the past few months and is now a light-filled, airy space with brand-new classrooms, a library, a cafe and a theater. The athletic, science and art wing is still under construction, and is scheduled to open this spring.

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DC International, often known by the initials DCI, is a language-immersion public charter school currently serving grades six through 10, with plans to expand to 12th-graders by the 2019-20 school year. Formed in 2014 by five bilingual charter schools in order to establish a feeder program for their graduates, DCI was most recently located in temporary space on 16th Street NW in Mount Pleasant.

DC International School is located in Walter Reed’s old Delano Hall. (photo by Victor Fernandez)

After numerous delays, construction on the DC International’s new Walter Reed home began this past December, according to the school’s executive director Mary Schaffner. “We thought we were going to get access to the space in 2014 then 2015 then 2016. They said at one point it might not happen in 2016, and we said, ‘It has to happen, because, with 800 students, there is nowhere for us to go,’” Schaffner told The Current.

Last fall parents and administrators coined #DeliverDelano, in hopes of reminding officials of the importance of this project and the tight deadline. Soon after, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office announced the successful transfer of the former federal hospital campus to the D.C. government, allowing construction to begin.

“Everyone moved mountains and helped us, and families banded together and worked really hard to get us here. Working with Building Hope and MCN, they really pushed it to get us to opening,” Schaffner said, referring to a nonprofit organization that supports D.C. charter schools and to construction contractor MCN Build. “That’s a quick turnaround for a 175,000-square-foot building.”

Classes officially began on Tuesday, but students, alumni and parents were able to tour the new, light-filled building at the end of the summer, and new student orientation took place last week.

DC International School is part of the redevelopment of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center campus. (Brian Kapur/The Current/August 2017)

“I felt a lot of comfort and safety at DCI. I think the students may even do better academically this year because the space is bigger and filled with light,” new sixth-grader Daniela Sepulveda said during orientation.

Sepulveda’s mom, Ileann Jimenez-Sepulveda, echoed her daughter’s sentiments. “When we arrived at Walter Reed, the kids jumped off the bus and ran up the hill, all the way to the front door,” she said. “The excitement in their voices was inspirational.”

The Walter Reed campus is being transformed into a vibrant mixed-use community featuring residential, commercial, nonprofit, government and public recreational uses along Georgia Avenue and Aspen Street NW. A section of the campus near 16th Street and Alaska Avenue NW is envisioned as a complex of foreign missions. The DC International School is among the first public uses of the Walter Reed property after the Army closed it in 2011.