Last Thursday evening I attended a perfectly orchestrated celebration of E.L. Haynes Public Charter School’s first 15 years. I just love it when events are fashioned in such a high quality manner.
The gala was held at the ornate National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Upon reaching the entrance there were banners on either side announcing the name of the school with its mantra of “BE KIND, WORK HARD, GET SMART” written across the bottom. The signs announced to the guests that they were about to enter a value-based environment. I immediately ran into Jennie Niles, the founder and former executive director of the school. I asked her what she was looking forward to about tonight. If you have met Ms. Niles you know that she believes that occasions such as these are never about herself. She commented:
“I’m just excited and really feel that its overwhelmingly wonderful to see all the people gathered here today that comprise the E.L. Haynes community. We didn’t even have a school when our first class of parents signed their children up with us. Now those students are in college.”
In college they are. Over 450 graduated seniors. The professionally produced booklet accompanying the festivities lists the post-secondary colleges and universities to which these young individuals have been accepted. Included on the list are American University, Brandeis University, Brown University, Dartmouth College, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Howard University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, University of Chicago, University of Maryland, University of Virginia, and Wellesley College, just to name a few.
Several dignitaries from D.C.’s education world were in attendance. I always enjoy speaking with Michela English, the former president and CEO of Fight for Children and current board chair at DC Prep PCS. It turns out that E.L. Haynes was Fight for Children’s first Quality Schools Initiative Award winner back in 2008. There was an extensive and passionate conversation I then had with Allison Fansler, president of KIPP DC PCS, and Jack McCarthy, AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation president and CEO, about the seemingly intractable facility issues charters face in our city, It is no secret that KIPP DC is trying hard to win the request for proposal for the shuttered Ferebee-Hope for use as its second high school.
Between the passed Hors D’oeuvres of chicken pupusas, maple cinnamon glazed pork belly lollipops, and mini bison burgers, I then was able to get a few minutes with E.L. Haynes CEO Hilary Darilek. I inquired from Ms. Darilek about her current focus at the school. “I’m really thrilled about the next phase for our charter,” she remarked above the rising level of attendees’ voices as the room filled to the brim. “The fact that we are taking a moment to celebrate our first 15 years with our strong commitment to the second 15 is really important to me. Today’s recognition is all about the students. We are now going through a strategic planning process with our pupils, parents, and teachers. This is also a special time for me because this week is my four-year anniversary at E.L. Haynes.”
I then wanted to know the biggest lesson that Ms. Darilek has taken away from her time at the school. She answered without hesitation. “We need to put student voices at the center of everything we do. If we really are truly focused on improving our program and our support structure for our kids, then we need to listen to what our students are saying.”
It was now time for the formal program. There were warm and concise welcoming remarks from Ms. Darilek and Ms. Niles. However, the highlight for the audience had to be the “Bring Yourself to Haynes” video produced by the school’s students. It was exceptionally well done. In one part you see the scholars filming the piece change their role to acting in the montage. A song was included named after the title of the piece. Here are a few of the words:
Let’s take a trip to two thousand and four,
Jennie had a vision for a school that did more,
She named it after Dr. Euphemia Lofton Haynes!
Our first building was on top of CVS – oh my!
Times have changed, now you can come by,
Our campuses [yeah two campuses] Georgia and Kansas Ave!
Started out with Pre-K and now we go all,
The way to 12th grade and every fall,
We tour colleges all around the country,
Check the banners on our walls
We believe in each other,
We support one another,
Ooh, we’re shooting for the stars
Don’t test me unless it’s SAT!
I’m out for text evidence to represent me,
Grade point high, uptown, DC,
And I’m measuring my angles, cuz I want a degree – Hey!
Next on the agenda was a high energy performance by the E.L Haynes 15th Anniversary Choir and Dance Ensemble. These students were simply amazing in the way they were able to engage the audience through their movement and voices.
After a few closing remarks by Abby Smith, the school’s board chair, it was time for desserts such as chocolate dipped french macarons and mini caramel cashew tartlets, brought to the guests by waiters and waitresses.
A tremendous time was had by all. The gathering raised approximately $200,000, including over $50,000 during the festivities. This level of support made it the most successful event in E.L. Hayne’s history.