This post was originally published on The Washington Informer

By Sam P.K. Collins

Within a matter of months, eighth grader Marli Hardy will graduate from Washington School for Girls and most likely matriculate to Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, Maryland. 

Since entering Washington School for Girls in the third grade, Marli has taken on numerous leadership roles and deepened her love for reading and health. She said the comradery and respect that female peers showed one another stood out among the school’s greatest qualities. 

As she prepares to embark on the next leg of her academic journey, Marli has her sights set on eventually entering college and pursuing future endeavors as an entrepreneur and realtor. 

Reaching that milestone, she said, requires use of what she learned within the safe confines of Washington School for Girls, located on the second floor of Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus, or THEARC, in Southeast. 

“This school has taught me how to stay away from a crowd that won’t [help you] better yourself,” said Marli, who’s also found her footing as a track star. 

“I’ve also learned to take time to study and ask questions to try to get one-on-one help. It’s easier in the small classes to benefit yourself and get the help you need. In high school, I’m looking forward to homecoming, sports and Advanced Placement classes.” 

Marli counts from among more than 100 Black female students, most of whom hail from neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, who are enrolled at Washington School for Girls. The school, now in its 25th year of existence, provides coursework and enrichment that prepares students to transition between classes and tackle high school-level coursework. 

Each student who attends Washington School for Girls does so on a full scholarship.  

In October, Washington School for Girls will commemorate 25 years and the International Day of the Girl with a community event. 

Washington School for Girls initially launched in 1997 as an after-school tutoring and enrichment program inspired by members of The National Council of Negro Women, The Religious of Jesus and Mary and The Society of the Holy Child Jesus. 

The women who founded these organizations – Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, Cornelia Connelly, SHCJ, and Claudine Thevenet, RJM – serve as the guiding spirit of the school’s mission and vision. Core values instilled in students include confidence, perseverance, generosity, joy, goodness and peacemaking. 

Though the Archdiocese of Washington recognizes Washington School for Girls, students at THEARC and the other campus on Morris Road in Southeast engage a curriculum not determined by the governing body. 

We get to acknowledge our Black and brown girls and be specific with their needs. We have an eclectic bunch. Some need mother figures, friends, academics, confidence and self-esteem – all of the things that make us up.

Essence Moore, English teacher and dean of students at Washington School for Girls

Washington School for Girls alumnae have gone on to attend numerous public, public charter and private high schools in the D.C. metropolitan area. Many have also gone on to attend and graduate from colleges and universities across the U.S. 

Some alumnae, like Joey Adams, decided to return and help those coming behind her make their way in the world. 

Adams, in her role as the manager of graduate support, prepares seventh and eighth graders for an entrance exam given to Catholic high school applicants. She also connects students with Washington School for Girls alumni who attend local high schools of interest. 

Adams, a 2010 alumna, described her goal as equipping her students with the skills and confidence needed to navigate the treacherous waters of high school. 

“A lot of our girls are coming from Southeast and transitioning to other schools with [people of] other ethnicities,” said Adams, also an alumna of Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School and Posse Scholar who attended Sewanee: The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. 

“It’s a life skill to be confident and advocate for yourself,” Adams said. “That starts with personal essays and interviews showing them that, in their head, they’re the best and they have to put their best foot forward.” 

Essence Moore, an English teacher and dean of students at Washington School for Girls, shared similar sentiments. In her fourth year, Moore has made it her goal to embolden young Black and brown girls to be their best. 

While she initially started her tenure at the school as a teacher, Moore said she became dean because of the rapport she established with administrators as well as with students and their families.

She said she hopes to continue doing that as she takes on more leadership roles. 

“I wish I had the representation in my academic journey to shine light on the things I went through as a pre-teen and teenager,” Moore said. “We get to acknowledge our Black and brown girls and be specific with their needs. We have an eclectic bunch. Some need mother figures, friends, academics, confidence and self-esteem – all of the things that make us up.”

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