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).

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.

“Through academic mentorship, career counseling, and sometimes financial support (thanks to the E.L. Haynes College Support Fund), E.L. Haynes continues to support me on my path to graduate from college,” says Kevin Peralta, Class of 2016.

A member of our second graduating class, Kevin Peralta (’16) attends Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, where he majors in Anthropology and Sociology, with a minor in Government and Law. A Posse Foundation Scholar, he credits receiving the prestigious four-year, full-tuition leadership scholarship to the support he received from his teachers and our  college office, saying they “set high standards and pushed me academically, and played an integral role in making sure I had multiple extracurricular and professional experiences before I graduated.”

Kevin Peralta (’16) alongside Marisol Castillo, E.L. Haynes Advanced Placement English Language and Literature teacher at Graduation.

We instill a college-bound culture throughout students’ experience at the school. From the earliest grades, students walk through the college-pennant-filled hallways and enter classrooms named for their teachers’ alma maters. Implementing a holistic approach, our students are prepared for the academic, professional, and financial aspects of the college enrollment process. Our students gain exposure to the college environment as early as middle school when they experience their first school-sponsored college tour. Our College Office designs programs to guarantee our students are equipped with the fundamental professional, academic, and social skills needed to navigate life, master the college application process, and persist to and beyond college. 

Since graduating our first class in 2015, our students have been awarded prestigious national scholarships, including Gates Millennium Scholarships, Posse Foundation Scholarships, and TheDream.US Scholarships, among others. In 2018, our first student was accepted into an Ivy League institution, choosing Brown University over Dartmouth College. And, in 2019, 100% of our graduating class were accepted to college, admitted to more than 150 colleges and universities across the nation. 

Our College Program is made up of our Pre-College Program, college counseling, and our Alumni Support Program. 

To ensure our students are college ready, our Pre-College Program encourages students to participate in transformative learning and résumé building experiences starting their freshman year. Students are exposed to internships and community service, experiential learning initiatives, student academic support initiatives, mentorships, and college campuses through school-sponsored college visits. In addition to building students professionally, our Pre-College Program includes PSAT and SAT prep, college counseling, and financial aid counseling. The program plays a vital role in ensuring our students, especially those historically underrepresented in the college process, are applying, enrolling, and have the skills to persist at the college of their choice.

Members of E.L. Haynes Class of 2018 in their College Gear, alongside Emily Hueber Stoetzer, E.L. Haynes High School Principal.

Our college counselors provide individualized support to assist each student and family to prepare for entrance exams, identify best-match colleges, especially those that have a history of success with first-generation college students, and submit quality applications for admission and financial aid. E.L. Haynes’ 11th grade college-readiness curriculum delivers the tools and information students need to take control of their academic futures. During the 11th grade, students learn time management strategies, build college lists based on career interest and academic standing, and receive individualized SAT preparation taught by the high school’s math and English Language Arts teams. E.L. Haynes integrates families into targeted college preparedness activities to support their understanding of how to plan, apply, pay, and save for college.

 In 12th grade, E.L. Haynes’ college-readiness curriculum guides students through every academic and financial step of the college application process, including writing personal statements, requesting recommendations, compiling supplemental materials, and comparing financial aid packages. During the second half of the year we focus on transition issues to help students become academically, socially, and emotionally prepared for the college experience. Our College Counselors provides “survival” workshops to increase college students’ persistence during their first year. These workshops address class registration, navigating a roommate, making travel arrangements, and getting involved on campus among others. 

In May 2019, students participated in the inaugural E.L. Haynes Commitment Day Ceremony, where students publicly committed to their post-secondary plans.

 After graduation, E.L. Haynes provides transition programming for rising college freshmen (including summer support to ensure they begin school in the fall), organizes alumni events throughout the year, and establishes ongoing communication and support for E.L. Haynes alumni. Through regular outreach to students, our Alumni and College Success Counselor conducts targeted outreach to mitigate obstacles to students’ successful transitions to college and connect students with institutions’ support systems. Once students are on campus, our Alumni and College Success Counselor schedules year-round activities to keep our alumni connected to and engaged with the E.L. Haynes community, including hosting workshops during students’ holiday breaks, sending alumni newsletter and care packages, and making on-campus visits. In addition, the E.L. Haynes’ College Support Fund provides support to students to help address financial barriers to success, such as travel, books, or college or university fees.

Through our experiences supporting our first five graduating classes, we continue to learn more about their needs and work hard to evolve our programs to fulfill our mission and our commitment to all of our students as they prepare for college and beyond.

“Marisol’s unwavering commitment to students is observable every time you step into the classroom—it’s a feeling—one where you’re seen, where your voice is valued, and where your strengths are recognized. Alums always attribute their strongest preparation for college-level writing expectations to the rigor of AP English Language and the detailed feedback Ms. Castillo provided. For the past few years, Marisol has served as mentor teacher for multiple teaching residents, most of whom have continued to grow in our E.L. Haynes community. It’s one signature element of her commitment to our community—the engagement she invests in professional development through coaching conversations and collaboration with peers. I am grateful for learning alongside her the past eight years, the intentionality she brings to every conversation, and her willingness to devote so much to being on the E.L. Haynes team!”

Emily Hueber Stoetzer
Principal, E.L. Haynes High School

Marisol Castillo, born in California and raised in San Antonio, Texas, realized at the early age of 14 that she wanted to be a teacher, always thinking she would be a math teacher. Her desire to teach stemmed from her love of math, and though a few years later a Stanford University undergraduate calculus class would change this trajectory, it would not change her calling as a teacher.

The summer after choosing to go into education, Marisol attended math camp at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. Her high school, which was 97% Latino, did not prepare her for what she would encounter at Texas State, where she would be one of only a handful of people of color. Whereas she was a high performer at her high school, “this math camp kicked my ass,” she recalls. 

Marisol was born in California and then raised in San Antonio, Texas. After graduating high school, she attended Stanford University.

But, what made this experience transformative was not necessarily the camp or the content itself, but that one of her teachers was also at Texas State that summer working on her Master’s degree. 

This teacher’s story was both aspirational and inspirational to Marisol, and over the course of the summer this teacher took the time to provide her lots of independent academic support. Through her mentorship Marisol learned the importance of persevering in the face of obstacles. “It was my introduction to growth mindset, the idea I could contest the belief in a fixed intelligence, and what it takes to learn from and not be defeated when your sense of self and identity are questioned so intensely.” 

Her time at math camp made her realize that she too wanted to have that type of impact on others, and she continued to return to the math camp, for two more years as a participant, and then three years as a counselor. It was at this camp where Marisol first learned about what it means to build a truly inclusive education since the camp’s demographics changed dramatically over her time there. And, as a counselor, she was charged with figuring out how to support all students. “I didn’t want to be Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds. One person is only as powerful as the community, and I wanted to do this work in a place where people are mission-driven and no one is trying to do it in a vacuum.” 

Marisol Castillo
Marisol with a fellow camper after hours of hard work solving some clearly complex number theory proof.

This experience showed her the power of being pushed by a person from within her own community, and that helped establish for Marisol the importance of always working within communities who share her background. 

After graduating high school, Marisol attended Stanford University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Comparative Literature, and then a Master of Arts in Education. Upon completing her degree, she started teaching in East Palo Alto, California.

While at Stanford she sometimes felt othered. Oftentimes conversations she had with peers were qualified with, “Given where you are from...” It would infuriate her. She thought about her peers in San Antonio, and how these conversations diminished their value. The inequality of that fueled her. “I had to realize that I didn’t need to compare my strengths and successes to others—that I could define them outside of what society expected (and didn’t) from me.” And that is what drove her to education and what she strives for as a teacher—to help students become the best versions of themselves not within limits or qualifiers. 

After her time in East Palo Alto, she moved to New York City. While there, she further honed her teaching craft and then ultimately moved to DC.

Maura Marino, the CEO of EdForward DC, who taught with Marisol in East Palo Alto and who had historically helped Marisol with job searches, recommended she apply to be a founding teacher at E.L. Haynes High School in 2011. “Marisol told me she was moving to DC and was looking for a school that represented her values—a deep belief in all students, the importance of teaching within a strong professional community, a true partnership between families and schools, and the concept of learning as an authentic and engaging process. It was clear that E.L. Haynes was the place she was looking for.”

Maura says further of Marisol, “From the day Marisol started her career as a teacher, she has been a model for what we should all strive for in the profession. Marisol focuses on her craft and works to get better every day. She holds herself and her students to a high bar for excellence, and provides deep support to students to meet that bar. She connects deeply with her students and makes content come alive. She is humble and reflective, while also being a fierce advocate for her students. We are so lucky to have her in the DC teaching community and particularly at E.L. Haynes.”

The founding of the E.L. Haynes High School was intense—all classes were held on one floor of the building, while they were finishing construction and classes also occupied trailers. All students ate lunch in their classrooms, and there was not a time where teachers were not with students. “It felt like you were constantly on. You were constantly energized, but you also felt like you were drinking from a fire hose.”

Teacher Marisol Castillo at E.L. Haynes Graduation
The Class of 2018 overwhelmingly selected Marisol to be the featured staff speaker at graduation.

Marisol reflected on the importance and power of Advanced Placement courses: “If we are really going to honor the rigor of Advanced Placement, we need students to elect to take them,” and the biggest challenge we face is “how to hold ourselves accountable such that the kids who take AP reflect the demographics of our school.” Further, she asks, “Am I really offering a class that meets our mission, or am I inadvertently designing a segregated space?” and “How do you work within the AP system to change it and make it more equitable?” 

She answers these questions by working closely with 11th grade staff and building relationships with rising 12th graders to ensure she’s targeting a diverse group of students for the course. In partnership with other teachers, she helps students develop a growth mindset so students don’t track themselves. These probing questions and the work Marisol does to address them are reflective of her practice, her commitment to equity, and her drive to create a space within the school that empowers our students.

Marisol loves teaching English and especially AP Language because “it lends itself to teaching anything—it is super easy to be responsive to kids, because it is about skills and habits, and content can be acquired through any reading you put in front them.” She wants to give students access to texts for culture of power purposes, but also wants to include texts that are responsive to the students and their interests. 

This is why next year she is excited to add a unit on fast fashion and its implication on the environment, and her favorite unit to teach, which she has done for the last four years, is on sustainable eating because “all of the kids hate it in the beginning and then are super bought in at the end.” It forces students to engage in challenging ethical questions, and think critically about something so basic that they engage in every day. 

It is also why the one text she will never take out of her curriculum is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. She does a deep dive with the students, analyzing the argument structure and the language. “It is a beautiful text with complicated arguments. It hits directly at why I teach English, and I can think of no better text to show students that words have power.” 

Teacher Marisol Castillo and Graduating E.L. Haynes Students
Marisol alongside members of the class of 2016, Kevin and Malik.

“Teaching AP in general is a challenge because you are teaching such a wide variety of kids in a really rigorous environment. How do you get them to buy into the ride?” she asks. “I am willing to work as hard as they are to making it work.” She provides substantial feedback and instruction, but she also believes that the less she can make it about her and the more students work with each other the more they’ll succeed. That’s why she uses a study group model that teaches them to rely on each other before they come to her. Her emphasis is on setting study group norms, building community among the students, and how a study group not only empowers their own learning, but will prepare them for the rigor of college, when an instructor will not be as present in their lives as a high school teacher. 

But all of this was before the COVID-19 closures. Now she finds herself preparing her students for an AP test that is vastly different from the original—one that will be done in 45 minutes and not hours, and accessible on a cell phone. It has required her to re-assess her practice and how she is working with her students. 

“It is amazing how quickly a teenager can mess up their sleep schedule.” So, it requires constant hounding. And her struggles are similar to a lot of other teachers—restructuring her day, having students who are also balancing additional duties at home, and balancing her own parental duties at home. But, really, “I am reminded a lot about how much of my teaching is built on connecting with kids, face-to-face, in person.” It is a challenge, especially working with 12th graders, to create buy-in and a connection with them. The power and subtlety of a look from across the room to help re-center and re-engage a student is nonexistent in a virtual space. “The tricks you have just don’t work the same way.” 

But Marisol remains hopeful and energized by the number of students who have been reaching out and some of the students who have thrived in these conditions, when they have more control over when and how they do their learning. “It reminds me how oppressive and rigid traditional learning can be, and I want to explore how I can replicate this flexibility in the walls of E.L. Haynes when we return. Then we can reach those students who might struggle to find their place.”

“Mr. Peterson’s dedication and commitment to excellence is inspiring. In his role as a teacher leader, he led his department on using data and looking at student work to drive improvements in our ELA student achievement data. He is thoughtful, humorous, and well respected by students and his peers.”

Zenada Mahon
Principal, E.L. Haynes Middle School

Since he was in the second grade, Marcus knew that he wanted to be a teacher. “I even went to career day dressed up as a teacher.” Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Marcus attended New York City Public Schools. And since an early age, education, youth development, and mentoring were an important part of his life. When he was in high school, he and his friends volunteered after school in a kindergarten classroom in East Harlem twice a week. “We’d go and read with the kids and just talk to them and listen to them, as mentors.”

In second grade, Marcus dressed up as a teacher for his school’s Career Day.

Following his graduation in 2010, he moved upstate to attend Syracuse University. Because of his fascination with numbers and problem solving, he briefly enrolled as a math education major, but after a semester of that, and finding out that he’d have to take Physics 2, he immediately switched back to majoring in English education. 

A first generation college student, Marcus had to navigate the post-secondary landscape on his own, but tutoring and mentoring remained a constant in his life. He was part of several organizations that tutored and mentored youth in the Syracuse community, and even led his chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha’s education and mentorship programming.

Following graduation, Marcus followed his passion to working in youth development and served as a college counselor for St. Nick’s Alliance, a non-profit organization back home in Brooklyn.

He was beginning to get restless in New York. “I think going away for college and studying abroad opened my eyes to seeing past New York. I wanted to move to DC.”  His college roommate and close friend was doing Teach For America (TFA) in Texas and was moving back to DC, and he had accepted a position at a KIPP school, and Marcus figured he could do the same. After speaking with the team at KIPP, they directed him to the Capital Teaching Residency Program (CTR) since he did not have any formal teaching experience.

Founded in 2009 and designed to meet the growing need of teachers in Washington, DC, CTR was launched by E.L. Haynes and KIPP DC as a teacher training program. The cornerstone of the CTR program was a one-year residency at either E.L. Haynes or KIPP DC. Residents work to develop into skilled educators by working alongside an excellent mentor teacher, receiving targeted coaching and feedback, and working toward certification with relevant coursework. The program adopts a gradual release model to ensure that residents are competent and comfortable in the classroom before becoming lead teachers.

Serendipitously, Marcus ended up at E.L. Haynes because of the two interview days that CTR offered, he could only make one of them, which happened to be the E.L. Haynes’ interview day. “This was one of the best inconveniences that could’ve happened to me,” he says. 

At first, Marcus really wanted to teach in a high school classroom. He was interviewing with Myron Long, the middle school principal at the time, who encouraged him to try middle school, and even then, he was paired with a fifth grade reading classroom. But, he was hooked, he knew right away that middle school was where he belonged. 

“The kids are going through so much at this age, and I love teaching middle school. They’re just like me. They’re in that weird stage of thinking they’re grown, but still cry if they don’t get their way. I still hold close to my inner child, so it helps me relate to them. Every day is a different day, you don’t know what kind of surprises you’re going to get. You really have to have a tough skin to teach middle school; there’s so much mess that comes with it…”

One of his most memorable moments teaching at E.L. Haynes happened last school year. The class was reading Blood on the River, a novel about English settlers coming to America, where a young boy dies. He decided to host a mock trial in the classroom, where students were lawyers, witnesses, members of the jury. They developed positions and arguments. And, in walks Hilary Darilek (E.L. Haynes’ Chief Executive Officer).

In Mr. Peterson’s classroom, he hosted a mock trial based on a book the students were reading. They took on the role of jurors, lawyers, witnesses, and deeply explored the text to frame their arguments and issues.

“Hilary happened to pop in, just to say hi and see what was going on—which I was used to. But she stayed the entire time and even spoke to me afterwards about how great it was to witness that. I think that when your CEO has time to hang out in your class, unplanned and unsolicited—it shows how much of a community we are at E.L. Haynes, but also how much each person is vested in if our kids are learning and what they are learning.”

Hilary remembered the class. “Marcus started his teaching career as a resident at E.L. Haynes and worked tirelessly from his first day to focus on his students. He constantly comes up with new ways for his students to shine and demonstrate their learning—from creative Instagram posts to mock trials to writing competitions. In a very short time, he became invaluable to his students, to his team, and to our community. I always look forward to visiting his classroom and to seeing how he leads and supports ELA instruction across the middle school,” she says.

As an Advanced Placement English student at his high school, Marcus fell in love with language and the power of words. And he wants to help our middle school students foster that love of language. “ELA is a social justice oriented skill—how well you can read, write, and speak, and communicate, people will judge you. It is perfect for our students, especially our students from marginalized backgrounds, to develop these critical skills.” 

Regularly recognized for his outstanding work inside and outside of the classroom, Mr. Peterson is an integral member of our middle school community.

The transition to home learning has been tough on Marcus. At first he welcomed the idea of working from home at a personalized schedule, and using all the technology to connect with the kids and teach them. “But the challenge is not reaching all of my students in a live learning setting.” Marcus, like many teachers, prefers teaching and troubleshooting in-person. But, as he says, “I’m growing an extra layer of patience and new skills with this method.”

“There have also been some bright spots!” He joined forces with Ms. Lattes, the Social Studies teacher. They both teach reading and writing skills, so they’ve designed a joint class. This collaboration has increased student participation in synchronous online learning. A large portion of the 6th grade joins them for their daily office hours, which they’ve structured as an online class, and many students consistently turn in their daily assignments. 

“Some of the students have been thriving with this work from home life. It’s great to see 12 year olds working at their own paces, meeting deadlines from their home, utilizing online platforms to download their work, and completing assignments.”

“Ms. Ty’ease epitomizes a great elementary teacher: she loves each and every one of her students as though they were her own, incorporates fun and play into her daily instruction, uses a variety of instructional techniques to meet the needs of every type of learner in her classroom, and develops deep, trusting partnerships with families. She creates experiences that students will always remember; experiences that will serve as shining memories for her students for years to come.”

Brittany Wagner-Friel
Principal, E.L. Haynes Elementary School

Before joining the staff, Ty’ease SetepenRa came to E.L. Haynes first as a parent. She was a full-time mom for eight years, running a small business out of her home, where she taught art and science classes to students. Once all of her children started at E.L. Haynes (she had a PK3 student and two second graders), she began volunteering as a room parent and helping out in the front office. “I was around all the time. I loved volunteering, coming into the classrooms to read, helping where I could. E.L. Haynes was such a welcoming place.” 

In 2010, a position opened up, and the school approached Ms. Ty’ease about joining the staff as the Family and Parent Communication Liaison. She was tasked with critical family engagement work, bringing parents and families into the school and into classrooms to volunteer. She immediately felt more invested and involved, and she felt her community get bigger. “The work felt holitistic to me – working with the school, the parents, the teachers.” She would invite parents into classrooms to read with and to students. 

Ms. Ty’ease came to E.L. Haynes first as a parent of Haynes students before joining the staff. Her daughter starred as Rafiki in our elementary school performance of Lion King, Jr.

Connecting students, families, and educators inside classrooms made her think, “wow this is something magical to me and it was just the tip of the iceberg.” She wanted to merge all those experiences, and though she enjoyed the work, she didn’t feel pushed or challenged. At that point, she began talking to her supervisor about the Capital Teaching Residency (CTR), a teacher training and residency program designed by E.L. Haynes and KIPP DC. “At that point I was talking about CTR, talking to residents and teachers who went through the program. And realized this is where I wanted to go. But I really needed to learn how to teach.”

That year, she became a resident in the kindergarten classroom (the classroom she teaches in now). Through CTR, Ms. Ty’ease learned so much about how she could impact her students. The experience was so much more powerful than she expected, and teaching became “the glue that really held her together.” 

CTR was a challenging experience for her—she was a single mom of three, balancing evening classes and work. But the CTR support system was helpful and uplifted her, and the timeline of the program made the workload doable and led to her success. She worked alongside an excellent mentor teacher, received targeted coaching and feedback, and worked toward certification with relevant coursework.

“I just love kindergarten so much. I have to have a lot of patience and thankfully I was gifted with that.” But, beyond patience and character, working with five and six year olds is always exciting and different. “They don’t realize how much learning is taking place—they are sponges.” The students are always keeping her on her feet. She has to be creative, and like all of us, our youngest learners want to be heard and listened to, so she honors their questions and engages them earnestly. 

“Today, Ms. Ty’ease spent 45 minutes on a Zoom call with my six year old. The conversation ranged from what he had for lunch and his favorite condiments, to what LEGOs he was building, to Pete the Cat and Star Wars, to boogie boards, the beach, and tennis rackets. All the while she engaged him, probed him with more questions, and connected it back to work they were doing in the classroom – whether math, literacy, or science. Her patience is unmatched,” said a current Kindergarten parent. 

Kindergarteners “are so innocent but so cute in the way they express themselves, and it is so unique being in a learning environment with them. It is a combination of joy, fun, rigor, and seeing those “aha” moments—you can see their brain moving.” As a Kindergarten teacher, Ms. Ty’ease is charged with giving them the worlds and tools at such a young age, to navigate their thoughts, and even to question you. “It is pretty cool to reach students at such a young age. Kindergarten is the basis of what they need to learn for their whole futures.”

Elementary school students participate in writing instruction during circle time.

Her favorite part of teaching kindergarten is when students are learning to write—right at the point where they have learned enough sight words to create sentences. “It is the moment when a student is writing, and they are asking how to spell something. Now, in the spring, you have the tools you need. And I say, ‘I think you know how to spell it.’ And when they figure out they can sound out a word, tap it out, read it, spell it, and then write it out. When they realize that they have the gift to process and put their words onto paper—it is confetti and sparkles coming from the ceiling.” 

Ms. Ty’ease would describe the transition to home learning with two words: “challenging” and “support.” There was the initial adjustment of being home, and then week two came and all the additional demands came into play—full-time mom, with a student who has an IEP, managing both her teaching workload (classes, planning, calls, report cards, comments, grades, juggling the timelines), but also navigating a world at home and supporting three children with their own learning during a pandemic. Luckily she has a gift for scheduling, but “in the beginning it was a challenge to manipulate time.” This transition was compounded by teaching such young children. “But now is not the time to be quiet. You have to share what you need and where you need support.” 

Members of the E.L. Haynes Elementary School team dressed up as characters from Dr. Seuss stories.

That is why she is so thankful for the members of the kindergarten team. They have been encouraging and supportive. “Having a great support system in-and-outside of school has been uplifting.” Lately, Ms. Ty’ease has found a new groove and her work has hit a different caliber and has been more joyful. She’s given herself the space to embrace this new journey—“We are all in this together and we are all experiencing this together. We have come so far, we just need to make it to the end.”

Though, missing out on watching each student grow over the course of an entire school year has left her with a feeling of loss. Home learning becomes so important, “We need to make sure they are growing, and hitting their goals as best as possible. It’s important to call with families so see how home learning is going. It is equally important to check on their well-being!”

“Mr. Kenner is an educator deeply committed to his own growth and development. He approaches every situation as an opportunity to learn and grow, all for the sake of getting better at his craft on behalf of students. He is an exceptional teacher and an exceptional leader because of his humility, determination, and deep sense of purpose.”

Brittany Wagner-Friel
Principal, E.L. Haynes Elementary School

In 2014 Rick Kenner started feeling restless. Growing up in the DMV, he attended the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to study Exercise Science. He planned to be a Physical Therapist, but while he was working as a personal trainer, he was looking for a career change. With a passion for service, he talked a lot about teaching with a close friend of his from high school, who worked as a teacher at KIPP in Atlanta. He probed her about what the job was like, what it required. Rick kept thinking that this was the path he might take, but he was hesitant. He didn’t go to school for education. 

She suggested he looked into the Capital Teaching Residency. As a KIPP employee, she knew it developed great teachers, and he decided to go for it. 

He started at E.L. Haynes in 2015 working as a teaching resident in the Capital Teaching Residency program, working alongside Ms. Ty’ease in her kindergarten classroom. He knew at the time he wanted to focus on elementary school and the youngest learners. “I learned a ton that year and had a whole lot of fun. Ms. Ty’ease taught me what it means to be a teacher, how to get a child to not just learn a skill, but to understand the skill, and how to apply it in life.”

After serving as a teaching resident in Ms. Ty’ease’s Kindergarten class, Mr. Kenner became a lead PreK-4 teacher.

Later in that first year as a resident, he truly realized he made the right choice deciding to teach. On a field trip to the American History Museum, he talked to one of his kindergarten students about US presidents. The student shared a fact about President George Washington. Always probing, Mr. Kenner asked “How did you know that?” The student responded matter-of-factly, “You taught me that, Mr. Kenner.” The power of the moment was not lost on him. “I gave it to him and now he has it forever.”

Following his year in kindergarten, Mr. Kenner took over as a lead teacher in Pre-K4 in 2016. He loved the challenge of teaching,  being able to manage the daily workload for a group of 4-year olds, together with his teaching team,  organizing the classroom and his students, and making sure students get the results they deserve. “I was always asking myself – How do I get students to do the heavy lifting? How do I get students to take ownership of their learning?“ He quickly realized that the answer was to be curious, ask his students questions, and probe their thinking. “If I am supporting a student, I don’t want to just give them the answer. The most effective teachers are really good at teaching students how to learn to understand — how to learn to learn. You have to always ask questions. Teaching is mostly listening and learning is speaking. As a teacher, you are trying to hear where the child is, question after question, to help them figure out the information themselves.”

Mr. Kenner loved being in front of a class, but he missed his students once they moved on to the next grade. Now as assistant principal, he can check in on all of his past students any time.

According to Mr. Kenner, one of the best parts of teaching Pre-K4 was helping support students on their path to kindergarten. He loved the day from start to finish. He got to witness firsthand the world through the eyes of a four-year old – how they saw the day, what they were excited about and eager to learn. When asked what he loved most about teaching he doesn’t hesitate. “The kids, man. There is never a dull moment. You can learn so much from them.” But it wasn’t always easy, teaching four-year olds comes with its challenges. “At the beginning I struggled with patience and understanding the grade-level and how to develop them appropriately. I would ask myself, how do I give them bite-sized information and bite-sized lessons to get them to fully understand? That patience is key to watching students grow.”

In the spring of 2019, Mr. Kenner was hired to become a new assistant principal in the elementary school. Reflecting on leaving the classroom, he thought deeply about ways he could not just impact the students in his classroom, but students throughout the school community. “I always miss the students I taught in previous years after the year is over, and now I get to see them whenever I step into their new classes.”

“Mr. Kenner is an amazing educator. When my daughter was in his class, his boundless energy and positive attitude made the classroom a joyful place for learning and play. As a parent, I felt like we were partners in helping her grow in both academics and confidence. I was dazzled by his ability to keep a group of Pre-K4 kids together and engaged on a field trip to the Air and Space Museum. Now that he is in the assistant principal position, we love seeing his smiling face as we come into the building at the start of each day. He plays a big role in making E.L. Haynes such a welcoming place to be!” Explained Alison Cavanaugh. Her son Bobby, says further, “He is super nice to everybody. He’s funny, generous. And he’s always high-fiving people in the hallway.”

At the beginning of the year, the elementary school principal Brittany Wagner-Friel told him that one of his primary jobs is to coach and support teachers to become even more effective instructors. “I try to bring the same love, care, understanding, and encouragement for them to own their learning as I did with my students,” Mr. Kenner says.

But, in the middle of this first year in a new role, all of what he was expecting was thrown out the window with the COVID-19 closures. The trust and relationships he built prior to these closures helps him navigate these new waters with teachers, students, and families. He sees the big challenges facing our students and knows that the key lies in the power of the relationship between students and their teachers – “students really miss being able to interact with their teachers in person.”  

Ever the optimist, the current reality keeps him grounded in the work. “I love E.L. Haynes. The students. The families. The staff. I love everyone here. I feel super blessed that I can walk into work and just love everyone I come in contact with every day. The kids keep me coming back. I am here for a reason, and I am here to make sure when our kids  graduate, ready to go to college or build a career, I helped provide a small building block in that process – in helping them pursue their dreams.”

Reynaldo Paniagua (Mr. P) remembers intimately the moment he and his wife Badia chose E.L. Haynes for his children. “It was 2004. We were walking down 14th Street in Columbia Heights, and I see this tall woman talking to people outside of CVS. She was talking about a school.”

Mr. P had just moved to the neighborhood from a different part of town and was looking for a new school for his sons, Patrick, who would be entering the second grade, and Cody, who would be in Pre-K4. That tall woman was Jennie Niles.

Michael Hall and Anne Crowley had a similar experience. “She was so warm. Energetic. Thoughtful. She talked about building a school together in partnership with families. That was what we were looking for,” says Michael Hall, whose son Isaiah was in the founding Pre-K4 class.

Mr. P and Badia, alongside Michael and Anne, were part of the 138 founding families at E.L. Haynes in 2004, when the school started serving Pre-K4 – 2nd grade students in their first space in Columbia Heights.

Inside an E.L. Haynes classroom in 2014.
When the school opened in 2004, it was originally located above the CVS in Columbia Heights. Jennie went everywhere in the neighborhood to recruit families—churches, community centers, farmer’s markets—all with the goal of creating an intentionally diverse school community.

“Those early years felt precious,” Michael recalls. “It was intimate.” In such a small community, everyone knew everyone else, from the teachers and staff, to students and families. Jennie remembers fondly the close-knit feel of the community. “There was a family that was dealing with some major issues—and the whole community just rallied around the family. Supporting childcare, pick up and drop off at school. Everything.” 

“The founding families really were excited about building a school together. We had plans for a lot of exciting things—an intentionally diverse community, expeditionary learning. But, I doubt any of them thought they would send their elementary school students to a school atop a CVS on one of the busiest intersections in the city, and with a postage stamp of outdoor space. It really was a testament to their commitment and their passion,” Jennie recalls.

The founding families felt intimately involved in all aspects of the school, and it was this collaboration that attracted many families. Mr. P and Badia were no exception. After their eldest son, Patrick, joined E.L. Haynes, they began volunteering wherever and whenever he could. “Mr. P was and is amazing. When starting a new school there is so much to be done. From putting together furniture to building and painting to maintenance. He, along with another founding family member, Jim WIlson, made sure everything worked,” Jennie Niles says. Then, Mr. P  started as the soccer coach, working and playing with the students at a nearby field.

After all of his and Badia’s volunteering, Mr. P eventually joined the staff of E.L. Haynes as our Facilities Manager. He even brought his brother Silvestre, and his sister-in-law, Isela, to join him on our facilities team. And though his sons, Patrick and Cody, attended Wilson High School, he has continued to ensure the buildings are maintained and operational, and is a beloved member of the staff community. Patrick graduated from the University of Vermont in 2019, and Cody is a POSSE Scholar at the University of Wisconsin.

Michael and Anne found ways to get involved early on too, and exemplified that phrase “partnership” that many of the founding families used to describe Haynes in the nascent years. When they met Jennie, they had just left their jobs at a large architecture firm and had gone out on their own to start Studio Crowley Hall. And in Haynes, in the excitement of all the growth Jennie was talking about, they found ways to use their skills to support the school. Michael joined the board and advised the school throughout our major projects—building out the space above the CVS, the Georgia Avenue location, and finally the Kansas Avenue location.

Samuel and Josiah Smith attended E.L. Haynes from Pre-K through 8th grade.
Samuel and Josiah Smith attended E.L. Haynes from Pre-K through 8th grade. Their father, Ted, served on the E.L. Haynes Board of Directors as a Parent Trustee.

Many families who joined the community in our early days believe that E.L. Haynes left an indelible mark on their students. “When I look at my two boys, I know that they have grown into the young men that they are because of E.L. Haynes. Their leadership, their confidence. They value diversity. They care about their community. They fight for what’s right,” Ted Smith says about his two sons, who both attended E.L. Haynes from Pre-K through 8th grade.

Anne and Michael’s sons have stayed with E.L. Haynes since the beginning, their oldest, Isaiah graduated in 2019, Sam will graduate as part of the class of 2020, and Eli, their youngest is entering 9th grade. When they reflect on why Haynes and why they’ve stayed part of the community for so long: “It’s a magical place,” Michael says. It has been a shared experience, but a personalized one for the boys. Each one needed something very different, and each one has received it at E.L. Haynes. I’ve been able to watch them all become the best versions of themselves. It is the power of the school and the community.”

The Class of 2020, our sixth graduating class, recently walked across the virtual stage for their high school graduation. Eighty-one students, their families and friends, and the larger E.L. Haynes community celebrated this wonderful occasion, as our students now become Haynes alumni, a growing community of more than 500 graduates.

Our mission is to ensure that all students, no matter their background, are prepared to succeed in the college of their choice. As they embark on different pathways to realize their dreams and impact their communities, we celebrate and continue to support their journeys.

One of our very first alumni to graduate from college, Lenae Meyers, completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Sports, Entertainment, and Event Management from Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, NC in November 2018. “I think one thing that Haynes has instilled in me since day one has been preparing me to go to college,” she says. After interning with The Taste of Charlotte and as the meeting and events intern at the Federal Reserve Bank, she realized her love for corporate event planning. She moved to Richmond, VA and worked as a sales coordinator for the Richmond Marriott. Because of the impact of the coronavirus on the hotel industry, she moved back to DC. Here, she is working as the training coordinator at JLAN Solutions and interning at Adventure in Black.

Lenae was our featured speaker at our inaugural 2019 Commitment Ceremony, where she outlined the work it took to graduate early from college, and encouraged the members of the Class of 2019 to pursue their passions.

After graduating from E.L. Haynes, Deonte Humphrey planned to attend college, but financial considerations pushed him toward the workforce. Now he is one of our #HaynesHeroes, as a member of the DC Fire Department. 

Deonte applied and was selected for the DC Fire and EMS Cadet Program in 2017. He graduated a year later. Since then, he has been stationed at Engine 27 on Minnesota Avenue, one of the busiest firehouses in the city. “I deal with fires, car crashes, sick people, anything dealing with a person’s well being. E.L. Haynes prepared me for meeting different people and learning how to interact with different people…My job is all about personal interactions… I learned the medical part at the academy, but how to interact with people, speaking in front of crowds, speaking in front of children or teenagers, that was a big thing I took from Haynes. My experience at Haynes helps me with adapting to my surroundings and new situations,” he says.

Though he had planned to attend college, Deonte took an alternative path to becoming a DC Firefighter. We honor his commitment and service to the DC community.

Winner of the prestigious Gates Millenium Scholarship, Kai Lin Shi graduated from E.L. Haynes in 2015. Following E.L. Haynes, Kai Lin attended Kalamazoo College in Michigan and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While an undergraduate, he also participated in a six-month study abroad program at Curtain University in Perth, Australia. After his college graduation, he joined City Year in Washington, DC, a national nonprofit that supports underrepresented communities, hoping to bridge the academic gap for students. This fall, Kai Lin will attend Cornell University to pursue his Master’s degree in Industrial Labor Relations. He reflects on his Haynes experience, “I think Haynes has done a great job in emphasizing the importance of critical thinking and critical writing skills that were easily transferable to my academic and social life in college. I felt prepared to approach problems and find solutions in a critical way. I believe that it’s a key takeaway as a Haynes alum and served as a huge success factor in terms of whatever I did after graduation.”

Kai Lin Shi credits E.L. Haynes for helping him develop the critical thinking and writing skills needed to thrive in college.

Ariela Garcia-Queche graduated from E.L Haynes in 2016, and she attended Salisbury University. Like many college students, Ariela explored multiple passions throughout her undergraduate career. She first started off majoring in nursing, but that changed after her first semester, when she switched to exercise science. But that too didn’t feel like the right fit. So, she switched her major to psychology. After speaking with her advisor, “I told him what I imagined in the future, and that’s where I got to social work.” Now, Ariela is a graduate from Salisbury University with a degree in Social Work and a minor in Spanish, and she plans to continue on to graduate school at Salisbury to earn her Master’s in Social Work. “Haynes prepared me for life after high school by teaching me how to be able to see my worth academically…E.L. Haynes helped me see my growth and what I was capable of doing.”

As a Haynes student, Ariela was an advocate for mental health supports for students. She looks forward to returning to DC schools to practice as a social worker after she earns her Master of Social Work from Salisbury University. 

These are just a few of the more than 500 stories our alumni write every day. In 2015, we founded the E.L. Haynes College Support Fund, designed to to support E.L. Haynes graduates in college with financial emergencies that could get in the way of their progress toward graduation, and in the five years since it first launched, we funded 68 alumni requests. Our alumni success program has grown to now include the support of Barrie Moorman, our Alumni College Success Counselor, along with campus visits, care packages, workshops and networking opportunities for alumni, and more. These critical resources are even more important now, as the COVID-19 pandemic presents additional challenges to alumni well-being. We are committed to supporting our graduates to and through college, ensuring that they have the skills and resources they need to thrive in college, career, and life.

“Never in our history—locally, nationally, globally—has the education of young people been more critical. I am so proud to lead E.L. Haynes through this crucial period in our history, developing and improving upon 15 amazing years, to prepare our students for the world that they will enter when they graduate, whatever path they choose.”

Hilary Darilek, Chief Executive Officer

When we opened our doors in 2004 to our first 139 students, we had a vision for a school that did more—that served all students, no matter their backgrounds, and prepared them to succeed in college. Since those first days, we have served thousands more students and families, and we could not be more proud of the work we have accomplished.

E.L. Haynes Chief Executive Officer, Hilary Darilek, celebrates alongside Ben Byrd, our elementary school music teacher, and members of the cast of Lion King, Jr. after they performed for a standing-room only crowd at our annual fundraiser, Toast to Transformation. The arts are a critical component of our new strategic plan, and will be a pillar of the student experiences we develop and align across our PK-12th grade community.

Our Next Chapter: 2020-2025

A hallmark of the E.L. Haynes culture is our constant strive for excellence and improvement. Beginning in March 2019, we started a comprehensive strategic planning process, engaging nearly 400 members of our community—including students, families, staff, and trustees—to help us reinvigorate and refine who we are as an institution and the impact we hope to have on our students. Together, we refined our mission, crafted a new set of core values, created the E.L. Haynes Graduate Profile, and established a road map for the shifts we will make over the next five years to our academic, talent, and organizational development strategy. 

As we launch our first week of the 2020-2021 school year, we reflect on where we’ve been and where we are going. In an unprecedented start to learning this school year, we remain excited about our future and to share our plan and aspirations with you.

As we enter this next chapter, we continue to reflect on our lessons learned so we  build on our strengths and make the necessary shifts to fully realize our mission for DC students and families.

Our New Mission Statement
We are a learning community where every student—of every race, socioeconomic status, home language, and ability—prepares to thrive in college, career, and life. Together, we create a more just and kind world.

The E.L. Haynes Graduate Profile

As part of our strategic planning, we started by defining the characteristics we hoped an E.L. Haynes graduate would possess by the time they finished their E.L. Haynes journey. We listened to students, families, and staff as they told us their aspirations for our graduates and what is most important in our ever-changing world and  economy. Our conversations centered on three key attributes—Community Member, Learner, and Leader. Our new graduate profile will drive the decisions we make across our Pre-K through 12th grade curriculum and the defining learning experiences and opportunities every student will have as an E.L. Haynes mountain lion.

Community Member


Shows empathy and regularly helps others without expecting anything in return.

Social intelligence.

Builds positive relationships and navigates group settings.

Intercultural competence.

Communicates and engages effectively with people from other cultures.


Applied learning.

Masters the foundational concepts in all core content areas and applies that knowledge to creatively solve real-world problems and challenges.


Explores new ideas, activities, and experiences, and strives to increase their own personal knowledge.


Works hard and finishes what is started, despite barriers and obstacles that arise.



Clarifies one’s intentions and goals, identifies necessary actions to achieve those goals, and leverages resources to accomplish stated goals.

Historical perspective.

Understands the social, cultural, intellectual, and emotional settings that shaped people’s lives and actions.

Social-Justice Orientation.

Promotes justice and equity.

To read our roadmap for the next five years, including our theory of change and our academic, talent, and organizational development strategic initiatives, click the booklet below. We are inspired by our next chapter and will share our ongoing successes with you. Thank you, as always, for the role you play in our community—for the last 15 years and the next 15 years, our community enables our progress. You are E.L. Haynes.

Your support makes a difference for our students.

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