It’s not often an elementary or middle school has a gay-straight student alliance. But the Sheridan School in Van Ness is committed to diversity — and that includes sexual orientation.
The alliance is among the reasons Sheridan was honored as a National School of Character by the nonprofit Character.org group in a ceremony on Capitol Hill on May 23. Sheril Morgan, the nonprofit’s Schools of Character director, said Sheridan was one of 83 schools selected from a pool of about 200.
Winning a National School of Character Award is no small feat. The award represents a rigorous assessment process that began in September 2016. It includes 11 essays, one for each of the 11 principles designated by Character.org, and a host of “artefacts” to demonstrate the school’s character — videos, photos and lesson plans.
Morgan visited Sheridan during its evaluation, and noted the school epitomized the award in its commitment to ethics and social justice. “One of the things I ask myself is, ‘Would I want my kids to attend school here?’” Morgan said. “I’d be happy to send my kids to the Sheridan School.”
Founded almost 90 years ago, the Sheridan School — an independent K-8 institution located at 4400 36th St. NW — is “educationally progressive” and weaves this ethos into every lesson plan, head of school Jessica Lee told The Current. “Whether it’s the literature we choose or an environmentally friendly math problem, our values guide our lessons,” Lee said. “We try to give students both sides, all of the information, to form an educated and ethical opinion.”
At Sheridan, lessons are designed to celebrate diversity, she added. For example, students are encouraged to use a creative, positive descriptor about the color of their skin, such as caramel or coconut. Also, Sheridan is a “Spanish-integration” institution — language instruction transcends any one class. Spanish is spoken in homeroom and appears on labels across the grounds. “We try to bring it more into the regular day,” Lee said.
Sheridan selects applicants according to their values. “I’d hate to use the word competitive — it’s 4-year-olds,” said Lee. “We need to make sure we’re right for them.”
Lee has headed the school for two years, arriving from California armed with philosophies emblematic of the ultra-progressive state, such as “maker-learning” — referring to hands-on, creative problem-solving. “When I say maker-learning to people in D.C., they’re often like, huh?” Lee chuckled.
Nicole Fradette is the mother of two Sheridan students — Sam in seventh grade and Olivia in fourth — and a member of the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. During her seven-plus years as a Sheridan parent, Fradette said, she has witnessed its evolution — always remaining at the forefront of society.
“They’re always looking at: Is it working?” Fradette said. “They respond to the changes in the world.”
Sheridan’s educational philosophies extend beyond the classroom and even the playground — all the way to its Virginia-based “Mountain Campus.” Students travel to the second campus once in the fall and once in the spring, where they spend several days rock climbing, zip lining, whitewater rafting and canoeing. Trips encourage students to appreciate the environment, Lee said. Fradette raves about the Mountain Campus: “My kids love it — kids thrive in different environments,” she said.