Brittany Wagner-Friel is our elementary school principal. A staff member since February 2007, she served as a teaching fellow, a special education teacher, and an assistant principal. In 2014, she stepped into the leadership role where she has been able to lead the elementary school in earning a Tier 1 ranking on the DC Public Charter School Board’s School Quality Report for four consecutive years.
Brittany’s story started long before she walked through the doors of E.L. Haynes. Her journey to work with students began when she was in college, and it starts with Ben.
Brittany met Ben when he was five years old. He had a severe case of cerebral palsy, and Brittany, when she was in college at the University of Vermont, served as his personal care assistant. Ben was nonverbal and partially deaf, and she worked closely with him to navigate the world around him – whether it was interacting with others, helping him play games with friends, or assisting him with every day tasks like eating or mastering his headpointer.
Ben’s mom was a former educator, but she left work to become his full-time advocate. Brittany, working with Ben over the course of four years, partnered with his mom to help advocate for Ben’s needs as he transitioned from an elementary school where he built deep relationships with friends to a middle school that could accommodate his disability. The middle school he should have attended, where all of his friends went after elementary school, did not have an elevator.
As she assisted in helping support Ben and his mom to reach his Individual Education Plan (IEP) goals, the seeds of a career in education began to grow.
In 2004, Brittany earned a degree in Political Science, and following graduation, moved to Oaxaca, Mexico. After nearly two years in Mexico, Brittany was ready for her next adventure, but did not want to move back to Vermont. Her sister, who worked at E.L. Haynes at the time, encouraged her to move to DC.
In February 2007, Brittany began working at E.L. Haynes in a job she describes as her “sister’s helper.” She worked one-on-one with students, facilitating reading and math interventions. She built connections with students, helped them develop academic and social skills, and advocated for them and the supports they needed. One of these students was Alaunte. Working one-on-one with the first grader reminded her of working with Ben. And she realized that she could deeply impact and support students, especially realizing her desire to work with students with unique learning needs.
R’mani was another first grade student Brittany met in her first year with the school, and then cheered loudly for him during his graduation from E.L. Haynes in 2018.
“I was able to connect with him on a deeper level, and I learned that education was the vehicle for these deep connections. Educators play a critical role in helping students feel seen, and are critical to helping our youngest students develop their positive self image.”
The following school year, Brittany served as a teacher and special education case manager and went back to school, receiving her master’s degree in special education from Catholic University. After five successful years teaching, she became assistant principal. In 2014, Brittany took the helm as principal.
Since becoming principal, Brittany has accomplished so much – she led the implementation of new curriculum in every content area as well as a new school culture model; she invested in a robust specials program, including visual arts, music, dance, and fitness, across all grades; and, the elementary school continues to improve each year.
When asked about what she is most proud of, Brittany is quick to answer—“Tier 1, our culture work, our specials and arts accomplishments, but most importantly, our teachers and our staff. I’m especially proud of our retention. Our incredible staff continue to choose E.L. Haynes. None of our successes would be possible without the hard work of all the amazing educators in this building.”
“Since third grade she’s been helping me with my math. She helps me become a better person…in math. Her letting me eat lunch with her in her room. I can talk to her any time. How my day is going, stuff like that,” Brian says. And, “Ms. Brittany makes me laugh…when I’m mad or somebody’s mad she thinks of something funny and then it helps us get happy. She tells jokes,” Gustavo adds.
After all these years at E.L. Haynes, she still finds so much keeping her here—the work is challenging, she loves her job, but most importantly, “it is an immense privilege to do the work we do with students, staff, and families every day, and I love the community we have all built here, together.”