- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

Carlos Fernandez, 17, has learned to “stand tall” in the past decade.

“I’ve learned to not ever give up and never conform,” the senior from Fort Washington said.

Yesterday, Carlos, along with 330 other students at the Lab School of Washington, kicked off the school’s 40th anniversary year with an artistic outdoor presentation showing parents and teachers how they have learned to take on life’s challenges despite their learning disabilities.

In honor of the school’s anniversary, the Lab School of Washington celebrated the “Stand Tall” theme with a 14-foot giraffe statue made by the high school students and a presentation including cake, music, costumes, a drama and bubbles, the school’s traditional celebration component.

In true jungle fashion, students from kindergarten through 12th grade paraded through the crowd with giraffe masks and sang “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

Stephen Johnson, who led the parade as Papa Giraffe, has been the school’s dance teacher for 30 years. He said the theme of the celebration reminds students to “stand tall for everyone.”

The Lab School of Washington, at 4759 Reservoir Road NW, gives students an opportunity to learn through one-on-one instruction and small group interaction. It also offers a variety of adult night classes, summer programs and tutoring for children and adults with learning disabilities.

“My son is a visual learner, and they give him a chance here for a successful life,” said Nancy Hartz, whose sixth-grade son is in his first year at the school. “He wasn’t learning in public school, but on the first day here, we loved it. He’s very social, and it has helped him with friendships and brought back the zest of learning. Since my son has dyslexia, they acknowledge him for his strengths and help him with his weaknesses.”

Founded in 1967, the Lab School has increased enrollment from five to nearly 500 and has expanded to locations in Baltimore and Philadelphia. The school has about 1,200 graduates and more than 85 instructors.

The curriculum uses the arts through classes called academic clubs. For example, when students learn about the Middle Ages, they dress in costumes, hold court and use drama and music to learn about the subject.

“We now have the research to prove that this works,” said Sally L. Smith, the school’s founder and director. “We knew that it worked from the beginning, but you have to say that you can prove it. We proved that because 92 to 94 percent of our students go on to college.”

The students agree.

“We have smaller classes, so it’s easier to learn,” said Rajeh Oweis, a 17-year-old senior from Georgetown who is in his fifth year at the school. “I’ve come a long way since I came here.”

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