Lab School of Washington

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Lab School of Washington

Reservoir Campus: 4759 Reservoir Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

Foxhall Campus (Elementary Division): 1550 Foxhall Road NW

Washington, DC 20007
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 in Washington, D.C. for students with learning disabilities, established in 1967 by Sally Smith.[1][2][3] Katherine Schantz has directed the school from 2009 to the present.[4][5][6][7] The Lab School of Washington is currently[when?] being renovated and has established a new high school building in the Fall of 2016, and also has plans for an expanded Theater and Arts Wing and a renovated Middle School.[8]


Although the school was not officially incorporated until 1982,[9] Lab School of Washington cites its founding date as 1967,[10] when Sally Liberman Smith, faced with her son Gary's learning difficulties in school, began home schooling Gary and eventually started teaching other children faced with similar learning difficulties. At the time, Gary was a first-grader at Beauvoir elementary school who could not read and who struggled with simple math. Beginning with Gary and three other students, and originally as an extension of the Kingsbury Diagnostic Center, a testing, education and remediation facility dealing with learning difficulties and related issues, Smith started her own school to help children with dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning differences.[11] Borrowing ideas from the 19th century philosopher, psychologist, and education reformer John Dewey who championed progressive education, Smith also figured out through themed birthday parties that kids, even those like her son who had significant learning differences, could successfully learn through the arts.

Originally located at the Kingsbury Center on Bancroft Place, the school later moved to a small annex of the center on Phelps Place, where, in 1973, Smith designed the curriculum for the Lab School of Kingsbury Center's Junior High Program, and the school relocated to the current campus on Reservoir Road.

Incorporated as its own school in 1982, The Lab School of Washington is now[when?] an independent non-profit educational institution. its Board of Trustees headed by Ann Bradford Mathias.[12]

The head of the school 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.

The school teaches students from first through twelfth grades who have moderate to high-level learning differences and average or above average I.Q. levels. These students can have challenges with reading, writing, spelling, and math as well as moderate executive functioning issues. Many of the academic subjects 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 smaller than those in public schools and in most private schools and are scaled according to the subject; this enables the teacher(s) to prepare lesson plans in order to meet the students’ academic learning styles and needs. More than 84 percent of Lab teachers have advanced degrees.[citation needed]

The Lab School has four divisions.[citation needed] The Lab School no longer[when?] has a night school program for adults with learning disabilities or a tutoring program.[citation needed]

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 people who have learning difficulties to the school and 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 an opportunity to ask them questions on how they deal with their learning difficulties during a Q&A panel session.[citation needed]

With such a large number of applicants, Smith opened a second Lab School in Baltimore, Maryland, and a school in Philadelphia is adopting her teaching methods.[which?] Baltimore Lab will no longer be connected to the Washington campus.[citation needed] 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.[which?]

Four divisions[edit]


The youngest Lab School students enjoy[citation needed] their own campus, located on Foxhall Road in northwest Washington, DC. The large building with its quiet residential setting gives children ages 6–10 the freedom to experiment and explore — to learn by doing — in comfortable, age-appropriate surroundings. There are no designated “grades” in the early years at The Lab School; grouped by age and maturity, children move through the program at their own pace, developing strengths, skills, and confidence for the academic rigors that lie ahead. Art, music, ceramics, theater, and dance are core components of The Lab School’s curriculum at every level, starting in the Elementary program. Reading, language arts, and math are an intensive part of each day’s work. Science, physical education, and The Lab School’s unique Academic Clubs round out the Elementary education.[citation needed]


Geared toward children ages 10–12, the Intermediate program focuses on transition. Although still “ungraded,” students move to The Lab School’s main campus on Reservoir Road and begin to assume more structure in their daily routine as attention to executive functioning skills becomes a priority. Written language is strongly emphasized at the Intermediate level; a technology-based Writer’s Lab encourages youngsters to explore myriad forms of written expression. Intermediate mathematics concentrates on abstract reasoning as well as computation skills. Academic Clubs — Lab’s full immersion humanities program — continue to be an important feature of the Intermediate program. And, in true Lab tradition, the full panoply of arts helps students access challenging new material. The extracurricular athletic program begins in the Intermediate level, as students are offered the opportunity to participate on several athletic teams.[citation needed]

Junior high school[edit]

Students in seventh and eighth grades enter Lab School’s Junior High program where executive functioning, responsibility, and structure are underscored. Technology and media literacy, science, drama, literature and writing, and intensive remediation in reading and math become increasingly important and are part of every student’s daily schedule. Humanities are brought to life though experiential teaching, similar to the younger students’ Academic Clubs. Students explore the evolution of government and become an experienced “world traveler,” immersed in the study of other nations. An annual science trip to the Teton Science School in Jackson, Wyoming is a memory-making experience[according to whom?] that teaches environmental awareness. Interscholastic sports and The Lab School’s award-winning,[which?] championship debate team round out the Junior High program.[citation needed]

High school[edit]

By the time they enter the high school, teenagers are ready to take on the demands of a college preparatory course load.[citation needed] While striving to give teens a typical high school experience, The Lab School remains true to its core philosophy throughout the older grades. Experiential, arts-based methods are used to reinforce the learning process so that students can master subject matter that’s essential for higher education. The bar is set high with rigorous classes in such subjects as literature, Latin, physics, chemistry, calculus, and rhetoric. Executive functions, such as time management, critical thinking, analytic skills, and self-advocacy are emphasized as students prepare for rewarding college and career choices.[citation needed]

Teaching method[edit]

The Academic Club Methodology, a teaching method, was created by Lab School founder Sally Smith and trademarked by the school.[13] Using the Academic Club approach, Elementary and Intermediate students have the unprecedented opportunity to immerse themselves in the humanities. Following one multi-dimensional theme throughout the year, young learners get a hands-on exploration of history, geography, literature, science, sociology, archaeology, and art. The Academic Clubs include the Renaissance Club, the Museum Club and the Industrialists Club for Intermediate students, and the Discovery Club, Gods Club, Knights and Ladies Club, and American Revolution Club for Elementary students.


The Lab School of Washington has 19 teams including Boys Varsity Soccer, Girls Varsity Soccer, Cross-Country, Girls Volleyball, JH Girls soccer, and JH Boys soccer in the fall; Boys Varsity Basketball, Girls Varsity Basketball, Boys JV Basketball, Boys Junior High Basketball, Girls Junior High Basketball, Boys Intermediate Basketball; Girls Intermediate Basketball, and Swimming in the winter; and HS Boys Lacrosse, HS Girls Lacrosse, HS Track and Field, JH Track and Field, and Tennis in the spring.[14]


In the past, 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.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Special-Education Innovator Sally Smith Dies". 4 December 2007. Retrieved 22 April 2016. 
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 10, 2008. Retrieved December 6, 2007. 
  3. ^ "Sally Smith, 78; Lab School Founder". Washington Post. Retrieved 22 April 2016. 
  4. ^ "Welcome to Lab". Retrieved 22 April 2016. 
  5. ^ "Lab Celebrates Upcoming New Building". Retrieved 22 April 2016. 
  6. ^ Valerie Strauss (13 November 2011). "Lacrosse star Paul Rabil, writer Philip Schultz advocate for the learning disabled". Washington Post. Retrieved 22 April 2016. 
  7. ^ "Making magic occur at children's summer camp - The Royal Gazette:Bermuda Parenting". The Royal Gazette. 19 November 2015. Retrieved 22 April 2016. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Lab School of Washington". Lab School of Washington. Retrieved 2015-05-26. 
  10. ^ "Mission & Fast Facts". Lab School of Washington. Retrieved 2015-05-26. 
  11. ^ Holley, Joe (2007-12-04). "Sally Smith, 78; Lab School Founder". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-05-26. 
  12. ^ "Lab School of Washington". Lab School of Washington. Retrieved 2015-05-26. 
  13. ^
  14. ^

External links[edit]

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