Long-awaited Whittle opening begins interschool relations

Photo+by+Evy+Mages%2FWashingtonian

Photo by Evy Mages/Washingtonian

As of September 3rd, 2019, Burke’s neighboring building has 185 new residents: the students of Whittle School and Studios. 

“The start of the school year has been great and crazy. For most schools, there’s a lot of stuff happening because there’s new systems being put in place, but we have to design everything. You may have great ideas, but once you throw people in the mix…” said Whittle’s Head of School, Dennis Bisgaard. “You try things and they may not work- from little things like Halloween to bigger things like how schedules work.”

The Cageliner toured Whittle’s campus and spoke with Bisgaard on various topics relating to the new school.

The for-profit model

One of the aspects of Whittle that stands out most is the concept of its being a “for-profit” school. Most independent schools in the area, including Burke, are non-profit.

“For-profits — they get a bad rap,” Bisgaard said. “Non-profits, you have to spend all this time fundraising. [Our model] simply allows us to spend more time investing in our students and how we teach them instead of fundraising.” 

The student experience

On any given school day, kids aged preschool through tenth grade enter through the temporary front door on Tilden Street.

“We never wanted to start with all of the grades.” Bisgaard said, “We figured there wouldn’t be enough interest in eleventh and twelfth grade and intended on having one class of ninth graders and one class of tenth graders. There was more interest than we expected for the ninth grade, so we have two classes of eighteen instead of one.”

At first glance, the building gives off a futuristic, modern vibe, but once you get through the front doors, it’s more sleek and professional. Students (and visitors) encounter a team of security officers, and each grade heads off for classes. Each class is no more than eighteen students in order to reinforce the ideas that everyone learns differently and each kid needs one-on-one time with their teacher.

An international vision

Whittle plans to have campuses around the world. So far, the two up and running are in D.C. and Shenzhen, China. 

“The idea is that once you’re a part of one school, you’re a part of all of them,” Bisgaard says. Even in the early months of the program, there are already students from the Shenzhen campus who are scheduled to come to D.C. for three weeks in December. 

“For our next campuses, we plan to be in New York City and Suzhou, China. On the horizon, we have London, Mumbai or New Delhi, Dubai or Abu Dhabi, Paris, you get the idea. We want to have campuses all over the world to provide an immersive experience to wherever a student wants to go.”

But an immersive experience isn’t exclusive to students who want to travel internationally. The school has already started implementing the idea of learning Chinese by immersion. Grades Pre-K through 2nd have half of the school day in Chinese, and once they reach 3rd grade they get the additional opportunity to learn Spanish.

What does it mean for Burke?

One of the effects of having another school so close to the Burke campus is the opportunity for community engagement. Bisgaard and Head of School Damian Jones have had plenty of discussions, as have co-presidents Nathan Weisbrod ‘21 and April Watts ‘21 with the student leaders at Whittle. 

Whittle invited a few different schools to their homecoming dance, one of them being Burke. 

“It was mostly kids from other schools. They invited Burke, Whittle, Wilson [and one other school],” Kaitlyn Diaz ‘23 said. “It was fun, and I definitely think we should keep doing Burke-Whittle events.” 

Weisbrod and Watts noted in an assembly that Burke and Whittle will be inviting each other to more dances and school activities.