In 2004, Jennifer Niles founded E.L. Haynes Public Charter School with the vision to build a school that was rigorous and intentionally diverse. At the core of the academic program was the unwavering belief that every child is capable of reaching high levels of academic performance.

Jennie’s vision for E.L. Haynes stems from her experience in the education sector. Following six years of teaching and the completion of her degree from the Yale School of Management, the Connecticut State Department of Education tapped Jennie to head the Charter School Office where she oversaw all aspects of the charter school program and led a multi-disciplinary team to create their accountability system.

At the core of the E.L. Haynes academic program was the unwavering belief that every child is capable of reaching high levels of academic performance.

Jennie went on to become the Director of Education Initiatives at The Ball Foundation of Glen Ellyn, IL, an operating foundation that partners with school districts to increase student achievement through systemic reform. From 2002-2003, she was a fellow with New Leaders, a prestigious urban principal training program, and in 2003-2004, New American Schools supported her development of the charter for E.L. Haynes. 

Jennie named E.L. Haynes for Dr. Euphemia Lofton Haynes, the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate in mathematics, a teacher in the Washington, DC school system for 47 years, and the first woman to serve as the President of the DC Board of Education.

Over the years, E.L. Haynes has become nationally recognized and is the recipient of numerous awards, accolades, and visits from state and foreign dignitaries.

In December 2014, Jennie stepped down from her role at E.L. Haynes after Mayor Muriel Bowser nominated her to serve as the Deputy Mayor for Education in Washington, DC, which she held until February 2018. 

Now, Jennie is an entrepreneur-in-residence at CityBridge Education. Her project is CityWorks DC – a new non-profit venture that identifies, designs, and scales solutions to the jobs/skills mismatch faced by students in the local economy.

Born September 11, 1890, in Washington, DC, Martha Euphemia Lofton was the daughter of a prominent local dentist and an elementary school teacher.  Dr. Lofton and his wife were staples in the African-American community, playing a major role in helping establish Catholic organizations specifically for African-Americans, including the creation of several Catholic schools in Washington, D.C. Martha, who preferred Euphemia, would go on to follow her family’s life of service to her communities.

Euphemia graduated as valedictorian from M Street High School in 1907, and enrolled at the Miner Normal School, now the University of DC, and graduated in 1909 as a certified teacher.  She then went on to study at Smith College, where she simultaneously taught elementary school as a way to subsidize her cost of living. In 1917, Euphemia married Harold Haynes, a childhood friend.

Euphemia graduated as valedictorian from M Street High School in 1907.

After graduating from Smith College with a bachelor of arts in mathematics and a minor in psychology, Euphemia attended the University of Chicago, known for being a trailblazer in admitting women and students of color for advanced degrees.  In 1930, she earned a master’s degree in education. Her thesis studied the difficulty of tests in helping understand the causes and variations in student scores. She discussed the tendencies to measure student progress as opposed to simply classifying students. This cause would become central to her advocacy in desegregating DC Public Schools and ending the system of tracking, a system that placed African-American students on one path (academic or vocational).

Euphemia later pursued a doctoral degree in mathematics from The Catholic University of America. She completed it in 1943, becoming the first African American woman to receive a PhD in mathematics. 

Euphemia completed her doctoral degree in mathematics from The Catholic University in 1943, becoming the first African American woman to receive a PhD in mathematics. 

Following her studies, she returned to education, teaching mathematics at a number of DC public high schools. Simultaneously, she served as a professor of mathematics at Miner Teaching College, where she re-designed the mathematics program, raising the standards of instruction and requirements for student achievement. 

In 1960, Euphemia was selected as a new member of the DC school board. In November 1963, Euphemia spoke of the lack of validity of IQ tests and the question of whether they measured cause or effect, an area related to her master’s research. She pointed out the segregation created by the tracking system and the increase in the number of student dropouts. For five years, she spoke out publicly against the tracking system, encouraging parents and community stakeholders to take action. 

In 1966, Dr. Haynes was elected president of the DC school board and immediately dismantled the tracking system, replacing it with new classroom methods of assessment.

In 1965, parents, administrators, and education experts petitioned the school system, denouncing tracking. This led to an external investigation that found most students on the honors track were white and students on the basic track were black. In 1966, Dr. Haynes was elected president of the school board and immediately dismantled the tracking system, replacing it with new classroom methods of assessment.

On July 25, 1980, at the age of ninety, Dr. Haynes passed away and left a legacy that would open doors for black women in science and mathematics for years to come. 

“Education in the arts is more important than ever. In the global economy, creativity is essential…Creative experiences are part of the daily work life of engineers, business managers, and hundreds of other professionals. To succeed today and in the future, America’s children will need to be inventive, resourceful, and imaginative. The best way to foster that creativity is through arts education.”

Arne Duncan
former U.S. Secretary of Education (2011)

At E.L. Haynes, we invest in a robust arts curriculum throughout our Pre-K – 12 program. Whether it is vocal performance, dance, musical instruments, drama, or visual arts, we believe that every student should have access to a high-quality arts education.

Research tells us the positive impacts of arts-rich environments on students of all ages – from increased attendance and engagement, positive academic outcomes in math and literacy, and to higher graduation rates, as well as to future civic participation. But, access to arts-rich environments is not consistent across the country, nor across schools in Washington, DC. 

During a week-long intensive intersession course, students learn to use various techniques to paint self portraits on wood.  Artist: E’layjah, 2nd Grade.

Since 2012, we have increased our investment in the arts to span our entire Pre-K – 12 curriculum. Our youngest learners participate in play and arts-based learning where art and art history play a critical component in their literacy instruction. In Pre-K, a student becomes an expert in Vincent Van Gough or Jackson Pollack, and throughout our elementary school, every single student receives music, visual art, and dance instruction twice per week. These classes lead to quarterly performances – a winter concert or spring play, Hispanic Heritage or Black History Month. 

E.L. Haynes' Performance of The Lion King
For their annual spring play, elementary school students performed The Lion King, Jr. in May 2017.

“The arts are a tremendous equalizer among our students,” Brittany Wagner-Friel, our elementary school principal, often says. For our students with learning differences or behavior challenges – especially our significant population of special education students and English learners – they can access opportunities to thrive in settings outside of a traditional classroom. 

Through Intersession and after-school programming at our elementary and middle school, we provide deeper engagement in the arts – whether it is video and digital art, choir, or contemporary dance – these in-depth experiences give our students important outlets to find passions and skills they might not otherwise explore.

E.L. Haynes' Middle School Student Plays Guitar
As part of the middle school music curriculum, students can learn to play various musical instruments, including guitar, marimba, xylophone, drums, as well as create and produce digital music.

At our middle school, students continue to flex their creative muscles – through visual arts, drama, and instrumental music instruction. Our visual arts program trains students in painting, drawing, and more recently graphic design and digital arts. Students explore artists like Kandinsky, learning from their methods and creating their own inspired works. Each spring, students in our drama elective and drama club put on a high-quality production. From Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, to Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, to this spring’s High School Musical, these performances showcase our students’ talents and abilities. They also provide critical opportunities for students often struggling in traditional classroom settings to find meaningful creative outlets.  

Student Art
At the high school, the visual arts courses culminate in Advanced Placement Studio Art. Students present a portfolio of work and depending on their score are able to earn college credit.

Our high school arts curriculum centers on vocal performance, visual arts, and creative writing. Students perform in choirs or in musicals. They participate in cross-campus performances, and serve as mentors to our younger artists. In addition to regular arts electives, our students participate in extra-curricular partnerships with arts education organizations like Critical Exposure or participate in Advanced Placement Studio Art, showcasing professional portfolios. Our students recite poetry for the annual Poetry Out Loud competition sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, and in spring 2019, we published our first literary journal – The Pride. 

Through Intersession and after-school programming, we provide deeper engagement in the arts – whether it is video and digital art, choir, painting and drawing, graphic design, or dance – these in-depth experiences give our students important outlets to find passions and skills they might not otherwise explore.As former President Barack Obama said, “the arts are what makes life worth living. You’ve got food, you’ve got shelter, yeah. But, the things that make you laugh, make you cry, make you connect – make you love – are communicated through the arts. They aren’t extras.” At E.L. Haynes, the arts are woven into the fabric of our student’s academic experience, helping our students thrive in a 21st century world.

Meet Scout, an 11-year-old Golden Retriever. Rachel Narrow, our elementary school social worker, has raised Scout since he was two-months old, and trained him to serve as a therapy dog. He comes by two days per week to greet students, staff, and families during arrival, and meet with students and staff throughout the day.

Therapy dogs are an important component of our wellness program at our high school and elementary school. Scout and Hart are not service dogs, but play a unique and calming role in our school community. For instance, Scout helps staff and students alike, feel relaxed, makes them smile, and positively affects the drop-off environment at the beginning of the school day. Scout loves to greet everyone in the morning during arrival. Even family members dropping their students off love to give him a quick pet hello – with one parent saying: “Seeing Scout in the morning makes drop off so much easier. My student loves seeing him, and I can’t help but have a better commute to work on those mornings.”

Scout greets elementary students at E.L. Haynes
Scout and Rachel Narrow greet students in the elementary school during morning drop off.

Adults instantly cheer up and smile. Shy and reluctant kids start talking. One student, for example, loves Scout. This student has some significant speech delays, but is always excited to say, “Hi Scout!” Last year, two students wrote about how Scout helps them to calm down and motivates them to focus on their learning. Their connection to Scout gave them the confidence to read their writing aloud at the All-School Meeting in front of the whole school while Scout joined them on stage.

In addition to our beloved Scout and Hart, our Wellness Program includes many more supports for our students. When E.L. Haynes opened in 2004, our founders had a vision for a school that provided comprehensive wrap-around supports for our students and families.

Adrian Taylor, former high school counselor, celebrates with graduates in 2016.

We provide students with the supports, strategies, and tools necessary to promote perseverance, resilience, pride, and success. With more clinicians than most schools both locally and nationally, we center our services on prevention, education, and counseling. Our wellness work positively impacts our students’ experiences and academic success across all three campuses – it helps students regulate their emotions, find a trusted adult to share concerns and process emotions for socio-emotional health, and find ways to cope and manage stress, grief, anxiety, or trauma in order to function better in schools.

A Community School, we partner with Mary’s Center, to provide our families with access to medical, dental, and mental health services. Founded in 1988 and located around the corner from our campuses, Mary’s Center serves families from across the DC region. 

Middle school students learn new yoga poses and practice mindfulness during our annual campus-wide Wellness Day.
Middle school students learn new yoga poses and practice mindfulness during our annual campus-wide Wellness Day.

As a culminating annual event, we bring together Mary’s Center alongside other community partners committed to holistic health and wellness at our annual campus-wide Wellness Day to give students and families the opportunity to gain further understanding about their personal wellness and develop skills to enhance their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

This work is possible through the tremendous support of external partners, funders, families, and students. Our strong commitment to student wellness shows everyone in our community that mental and physical wellbeing go hand-in-hand with the academic work needed to prepare out students for successful futures.

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.  

Brittany Wagner-Friel working one-on-one with a student during the 2011-2012 school year.
Brittany Wagner-Friel working one-on-one with a student during the 2011-2012 school year. 

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.”

Brittany Wagner-Friel celebrates graduation with E.L. Haynes students and staff.
From left to right, Fortuna Abebe (Class of 2016), Brittany Wagner-Friel, alongside former Chief Academic Officer Eric Westendorf, Heyabe Abebe (Class of 2019), Chief Executive Officer Hilary Darilek, E.L. Haynes Founder Jennie Niles, and Mr. Abebe. 

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.” 

Brittany Wagner-Friel opens the door for E.L. Haynes student.
As principal, she still builds strong relationships with students. Whether helping them with math, making them smile on a tough day, eating lunch with students in her office, or finding ways to keep them focused, Brittany remains deeply connected to students and to the community.

“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.”

More than fifty years ago, activists directly confronted the bigotry, discrimination, and oppression that threatened the founding vision of the United States.

Each year, up to 40 of our high school students participate in our signature experience, the E.L. Haynes Civil Rights Tour of the South, to learn from the legacy of the individuals who worked tirelessly to ensure a more equitable and just future for generations to come. We are committed to providing meaningful, first-hand signature learning opportunities like this to our students. 

The Civil Rights Tour of the South Group Photo
The inaugural group of students who participated in the Civil Rights Tour of the South in 2013 seated in front of a statue of Booker T. Washington at his home, The Oaks.

Launched in 2013, the trip was developed by Barrie Moorman while serving as the high school’s US History teacher. In recognition of her work engaging students in history in and out of the classroom, she was named DC History Teacher of the Year and received the Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2014.

Civil Rights Tour of the South at Equal Justice Initiative
Haynes Alum, Jeo Zuniga, examines the soil samples from the sites of lynchings at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery (2017).

Each year on this week-long trip, students research and tour historical sites of the Civil Rights Movement, interview individuals essential to civil rights struggles, and share their experiences back with the broader community. Students travel by bus from Washington, DC to Greensboro, NC, to Atlanta, GA, then on to Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham, AL, then through Tennessee and finally back to DC. Over the course of their travels, students visit major landmarks of the Civil Rights Movement, including the International Civil Rights Center in Greensboro, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, as well as the King Center in Atlanta, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the Equal Justice Initiative, the 16th Street Baptist Church, among many others. In addition to bearing witness to these important sites, students also meet with activists currently engaged in furthering the work that started more than 50 years ago. Students reflect on two essential questions throughout the week. First, how did the Civil Rights Movement mobilize to expand democracy for Black Americans? And second, how can I/we organize for justice and take action to create change in our communities?

Civil Rights Tour of the South at 16th St. Baptist Church
“I was so touched by everything I learned today, especially when we went to the 16th Street Baptist Church. I really felt the power and love of the community. Their energy was so empowering that it made me think even deeper on how I can make a change in my community and help my people, my loved ones.” —Natalie Hernandez, 11th grade

In 2018, one of the participating students said this about the trip: “This trip is an experience like no other. The things I have gotten to see, learn, or relearn have been soul touching. From sitting in the sanctuary at Ebenezer Baptist Church to walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, this trip allowed me to connect on so many levels with those who have made a difference. It has challenged me as a leader and has driven me to think about what I need to do to make a greater change…”


This year, the Civil Rights Tour of The South will take place from April 8 to April 14, 2020. Follow our students and their experiences on Instagram (@ELHCivilRights).

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In order to develop the leaders of tomorrow, we nurture the curiosity and imaginations of more than 1,100 students in our PreK-12th grade community through programs in STEM and exploratory and applied learning, paired with a robust set of extracurricular activities and athletics.

These experiences help students develop the perseverance, creativity, teamwork, and determination needed to thrive in colleges, careers, and their lives post-graduation.

From after-school clubs and activities for our youngest learners to Advanced Placement classes for our high school students, we strive to fulfill our founding vision and celebrate our namesake by providing multiple opportunities for our students to become adept at mathematical reasoning and use the scientific method to frame and solve problems. Across our campuses, our students make slime, build robots, and solve complex calculus equations.

Middle school students exploring robotics.
At our middle school, we offer a robotics elective for all students. Through robotics, students design and build robots, learn the basics of coding, and conduct experiments to master the mechanical engineering fundamentals.

“Robotics is very competitive, and I like that because I like trying to build the best things.”

Zerabruck, 7th Grade


“I like robotics because if I want to grow up and be an engineer, it can really help me.”

Dylan, 7th Grade

Our students’ futures require so much more than just STEM mastery, which is why beyond these academic goals we offer robust extracurricular activities and signature experiences that help them thrive as whole students.

“Whether it is one of our elementary school students discovering a love of engineering by building with legos, a middle school student getting their competitive juices flowing on the debate team, or a tri-sport athlete on our varsity high school teams, these opportunities make E.L. Haynes a vibrant school community,” says Hilary Darilek, Chief Executive Officer.

During the 19-20 school year, our middle school boys soccer team came in second place in their division, playing under the lights in the championship match at Audi Field.

From our middle school to our high school, our students participate in soccer, basketball, cross country, girls lacrosse, flag football, and volleyball. These opportunities help our students understand the power of teamwork and determination, and we see tremendous success. 

During the 19-20 school year, our middle school boys soccer team came in second place in their division, playing under the lights in the championship match at Audi Field. Our high school girls basketball team made the State playoffs. Our high school boys soccer team received a statewide ranking above several elite private school teams in the area, and our newest varsity sport, girls lacrosse, brings new excitement to our field each spring.

All of these programs are integral to student engagement. Whether it is STEM, exploratory and applied learning, extracurricular activities or athletics, these opportunities help them build skills like teamwork, responsibility, and a sense of community, and they also boost school attendance, academic success, and our students’ aspirations for continuing their education past high school.

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