The New School on the Block

Blyth-Templeton Academy Opens at the Hill Center

There’s a new high school in town, and it’s not like the others.

Opening on Sept. 8 at the Hill Center, the Blyth-Templeton Academy offers a unique curriculum focused on immersive, student-centered experiential learning. “Immersive” means kids get lost in it, “student-centered” means teachers teach what the students want to learn, and “experiential” means they’re actually doing something, not just copying things down obligatorily. It’s exactly what cutting-edge teacher education programs teach nowadays, and it’s every great teacher’s dream: classes so small you don’t need to take roll, students who want to be there, and freedom to take full advantage of everything Washington has to offer.

Students have three periods per day of two hours and 20 minutes of instruction. They take two academic subjects and one semi-programmed free period per day, per nine-week academic quarter, taking different classes each term. The school day runs from 9:00 a.m. to 4:40 p.m., and a year at the brand-new school in the great old building only costs $14,950.

Blyth-Templeton will occupy four Hill Center classrooms during school hours, as well as two office spaces on a full-time basis. Given that the Hill Center has served as the incubator of a variety of small businesses and nonprofits since it opened in 2011, Executive Director Diana Ingraham explained that having a high school operating within Hill Center walls isn’t all that unexpected. “We are pleased that we are in a position to provide space as the school launches,” Ingraham said. “This relationship is just another example of Hill Center's interest in experimenting with a range of uses for the building.

Location, Location, Location

In two hours and 20 minutes on Capitol Hill students can talk about what they want to learn, go out in the city and learn it, and come back and write it up. In a free period they could walk to check out books from the Southeast Library, swim in the Rumsey pool on their way back to school, and still have an hour to work on their favorite project. Gone are the drudgery and prison-like aspects of high school, with teachers requiring students to take notes on slideshow lectures and trudge from room to room. In their place are instructors excited to develop their students’ academic interests and provide them with new experiences.

Modeled after the network of similar Blyth-Templeton Academy high schools in Canada, Blyth-Templeton expects 15 to 20 students to enroll this fall, and hopes to reach its target of 100 students total within a year or two. This is certainly feasible, given how many Hill parents are less than enamored with the neighborhood’s limited options for high schools.

The Blyth-Templeton philosophy also appeals to more types of students than one might think. In addition to the unique opportunity to spend the school day embedded in the community, Blyth-Templeton students have the opportunity to take advanced placement (AP) courses through Blyth-Templeton Academy Online, study overseas with the Blyth-Templeton Academy Global High School, or even do an academic quarter at a Blyth-Templeton Academy High School in Canada.

The nearby Capitol Hill Day School (K-8) also espouses experiential education but has a standard daily class schedule, albeit with weekly field trips. Head of School Jason Gray has two kids there now and one who just finished. “My kids love going to school every day,” he said. “They love to learn, they’re engaged, and they’re excited about it. They’re familiar with the community of Capitol Hill plus the broader DC region, and all of that deepens the learning that they do in the classroom in a way that would not be possible without field education.”

Experienced Leadership

Lee Palmer, the head of school at Blyth-Templeton and formerly the upper school principal at Sidwell Friends, has worked at resource-rich, high-performing schools throughout her career. “Throughout my career as a science teacher and an administrator I came to believe very strongly, based on experience, training, everything I’d learned myself from teaching, and everything that I learned from others, that the best way that students learn is by doing,” Palmer said, “by actually being actively engaged in the learning process themselves; being seekers rather than receivers.”

“We are a mainstream, academically rigorous, high expectations school,” explained Palmer. “We have kids coming for all different kinds of reasons. We have kids who were not thriving in a traditional setting, but those are not the majority of the kids. The majority of the kids are in a school setting where they’re either excelling or they’re doing fine, but either their parents or they feel that there’s got to be something better. They use that kind of language. ‘We’re fine where we are; we think this will be better.’”

Fifteen grand is far from free, but it’s less expensive than Catholic high schools, less than half the price of a fancy private school like Sidwell Friends, and a third the price of a highly specialized fancy private school like The Lab School. The British School of Washington, BASIS in McLean, and The Siena School in Silver Spring are all more expensive.

Instead of splashing out by spending big money on new facilities, the school aims to keep costs low by using existing community resources. There are no built-in social activities like dances or sports teams, because it’s just not that kind of school. Blyth-Templeton also claims there are no hidden costs involved in attendance such as those generated by fundraising events. The school expects that 20 percent of its students will receive financial support in the form of financial aid or merit scholarships.

The school has a small but full staff of teachers for the first term, and it will add teachers as more students join the school at the beginning of each of the four terms. Jennifer Rivers, the founding humanities teacher, was the first full-time instructor hired. “Blyth-Templeton Academy drew me in because it offers the chance to practice teaching as an art,” said Rivers. “This teaching position differs from my previous ones because it offers the chance to design an educational experience that allows students to maintain curiosity about the world by asking big questions and struggling to find answers together, incorporating the things that interest and excite students into the learning process without sacrificing rigor.”

Palmer said the new school will measure its success by the degree to which, at the end of the year, “Students come away feeling that they’ve learned a lot, they’ve learned what they had hoped to learn, they’ve learned a lot of things that they didn’t expect to learn, and they enjoyed the experience: they couldn’t wait to get to school and school was a joy rather than something they had to do.”

For more information or to sign up to attend an open house or meet with Head of School Lee Palmer go to http://blythtempleton.org/.

A Little History

Blyth-Templeton was founded in 1977 to provide Canadians with travel and education opportunities. In 1978 the organization launched the first high-school-accredited program at Oxford University while running courses in European countries. By 1980 it was Canada’s leading provider of international summer programs for students. Blyth-Templeton opened its first school, Blyth Academy, in 2002 with 12 students on the third floor of a walk-up building in Yorkville. Today the organization owns and operates 15 schools including 12 in Canada, as well as Blyth Global High School and Blyth Academy Online.

Blyth Academy is now Canada’s leading private school by enrollment with more than 5,000 students. International education programs operate in more than 30 countries around the globe. The organization employs more than 800 faculty and staff and is led by its founder and CEO, Sam Blyth, and Blyth Academy’s president, Pat Shaw.

Blyth Templeton Academy in Washington, DC, is the organization’s first US school.


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