Lab School of Washington

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Lab School of Washington
4759 Reservoir Road, NW Washington, D.C., United States
Type Private school
Established 1967
Head of school Katherine Schantz
Faculty 150+
Enrollment 350
Mascot Dragon
Information (202)965-6600

The Lab School of Washington is a small private school for students with learning difficulties and disabilities. It was founded by Sally Lieberman Smith, an American educator who taught at American University, where she directed the Graduate Program in Learning Disabilities from 1976 to 2007.[1] Katherine Schantz has directed the school from 2007 to the present. Most of the graduate program's students receive their training at the Lab School and then move on to other schools around the nation. The Lab School of Washington is currently being renovated and has plans to establish a new high school building before 2020.


In 1967, Sally Liberman Smith was faced with her son Gary's learning difficulties in school. She began home schooling Gary and eventually started teaching other children faced with similar learning difficulties. Inspired by Gary's themed birthday parties, Mrs. Smith would have her students dress in attire from different time periods and participate in hands-on artistic activities in order to help them learn history, math, reading, and other subjects. Eventually, she was receiving more students and had to find a larger space for teaching. Originally located at the Kingsbury School, it later moved to a small building on Phelps Place. After that became too small, the school relocated to the current campus on MacArthur Blvd.


Some of the Lab School graduates take Mrs. Smith’s teacher education program at American University and return to the school as teachers. The current head is Katherine Schantz. There are two campuses of the Lab School: the main campus, which houses the intermediate division, junior high and high school, is on Reservoir Road, while the elementary school campus is on Foxhall Road.

Today, the school teaches students from grades K-12 who have moderate to high-leveled learning difficulties and average or above average I.Q. levels. These students have trouble with reading, writing, spelling, and math, as well as social development and executive functioning issues. Most of the academics are taught through an arts-based curriculum, whether through the performing arts, dramatic arts, or visual arts, but there is also traditional work with textbooks and worksheets. In addition, all class sizes are relatively small and scaled according to the subject; this enables the teacher(s) to prepare personalized lesson plans in order to meet the students’ academic learning styles and needs. Teachers at The Lab School of Washington are dedicated to teaching and helping students find strategies to work with and around their learning difficulties.

The Lab School has four divisions. The Elementary program serves students from ages six through ten. The Intermediate program serves students from ages ten through thirteen.

These first two divisions' programs are organized into groups, instead of grades, as these students are not graded. The two divisions teach history through the arts by forming academic clubs. In the Cave Club, students make believe they are humans in the Neolithic period.[clarification needed] In the Gods Club, the students roleplay living in the eras of the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Other academic clubs include the Knights and Ladies Club, the Renaissance Club, the Museum Club, and the Industrialists Club.

In the Junior High division, social studies classes include Humanities for the seventh grade and Democracy for the eighth grade. In Humanities class, three countries are studied. After each country is studied, students invite their families to a luncheon, where they are served food from the studied country. In the Democracy class, students learn about the history of the United States Government and how our government functions. In past years, part of the Junior High experience was a trip to a ski lodge during the winter, but this no longer occurs. Later near the end of the year, there is a rafting trip on the Potomac River.

The High School division teaches through a college-bound curriculum that is experiential and arts-based. All high school students may campaign, during the first few weeks of the school year, for certain positions for the student council, thus giving the student some political experience. Throughout the year there are school dances on holidays such as Halloween and events such as Homecoming. Classes take field trips to places around the city. Each year, and occasionally during the summer, there are several international trips which students can choose to go on; previous destinations have included England and France, China, Costa Rica, and Canada. International trips are oriented around one or two subjects in specific; for example, the China trip was focused on the biology class's ecology unit.

The 11th grade includes an internship program to prepare students for the business world. Juniors are placed in an internship job that suits both their interests and skills. Most students work off-campus for businesses in the surrounding area, while a few work on-campus. Juniors are receive assistance and guidance in applying for colleges and choosing a college that is compatible with their interests, academic needs, and career aspirations. 90% of graduating Seniors go on to college. Some have taken a gap year or a postgraduate (13th year) at a boarding school.

The Lab School also has a night school program for adults with learning difficulties. This program helps them with their academic-related aspects of their workday.

Also available are on-campus clinical services. These services consist of psychological services, occupational therapy, speech and language pathology, and tutoring and testing services, as well as care from clinical psychologists with a Ph.D. Some students who do not attend the Lab School can also receive these services.

Each year, the school invites well-known people who have learning difficulties to the school. She gives them an award for working through their difficulties and any academic-related challenges they face in their careers. Some of the awardees include Cher, Tom Cruise, Henry Winkler, Tracey Gold, Magic Johnson, Daniel Stern, Susan Butcher, Fannie Flagg, Vince Vaughn, Don Coryell, Billy Bob Thornton, Danny Glover, Charles Schwab, and other notable individuals. Students get to have a rare opportunity to meet these celebrities and ask them questions on how they deal with their learning difficulties during a Q&A panel session.

With such a large number of applicants, Ms. Smith opened a second Lab School in Baltimore, Maryland, and a school in Philadelphia is adopting her teaching methods. The Lab School has a debate team in the Junior High and High school. They practice debating as part of an after school program and compete against many different schools from the D.C. area.


The Lab School of Washington has many sports. The Lab School has a Varsity soccer team, volleyball, basketball, lacrosse sponsored by the Paul Rabil Foundation, swimming, tennis, track, and cross country. The middle school has a soccer, basketball (the junior high boys won the basketball championship in 2012), tennis, and track team and sometimes compete on the high school teams. The lower school has a soccer team.


The Lab School of Washington has earned a tremendous amount of recognition. It has been recognized as a Blue Ribbon School by the US Dept. of Education. In 1994, the United States Department of Education recognized the school as a PEP(Program Effectiveness Panel)-approved program eligible for dissemination through the National Diffusion Network. In May 2006, the National Broadcasting Corporation’s Today Show crowned Sally L. Smith as Queen of the Day, honoring outstanding mothers. The School has issued many publications including PBS video "Teach Me Different," and several books available at Barnes & Noble Booksellers. Many schools throughout the country are adopting The Lab School’s teaching methods.[citation needed]


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Coordinates: 38°54′56″N 77°05′35″W / 38.9156°N 77.093°W / 38.9156; -77.093