Frequently Asked Questions

Some thoughts to consider about HBW, and what it means to Arlington.  Also, some answers to questions about the program.

Key Messages for Talking about HBW

What defines the H-B Woodlawn Program?

The H-B Woodlawn Program is a highly successful, secondary choice school for Arlington students in middle and high school. The H-B Woodlawn program provides students with more control over their education than traditional comprehensive schools permit. The HBW community prizes self-motivation and self-discipline in its students, and the HBW staff embraces these characteristics as vital for success at HBW. The staff works hard to inculcate these habits in HBW’s students incrementally, increasing freedom and expectations of responsibility through the grades.

The central focus of HBW’s program is student choice.  As part of their overall experience at HBW, students make choices in three general areas: use of time and personal behavior, educational goals, and school governance. Personal freedom and tolerance, aided by self-regulation and community standards, shape student experiences on a daily basis.

Some unique “cultural” aspects of the HBW program enable students to be successful within a setting that is less structured than traditional comprehensive schools permit. These include:

Town Meeting:  Town Meeting is H-B Woodlawn’s policy-making forum. Throughout the year, Town Meeting participants, which include staff, students and other community members, decide on the allocation of staffing given to departments, hire teachers, allocate parent-raised funds, and determine general school rules. Because the school community is small, each student, teacher, and parent in attendance has an equal vote and all have an equal opportunity for participation.

Personal freedom and responsibility in behavior:  Community engagement and involvement takes the place of formal discipline programs at HBW. The small size of the student body means that students cannot be anonymous—they are surrounded by peers and staff they know well and who know them well. Students take seriously their participation in the HBW community. The close-knit student body is mostly self-regulating and non-punitive when it comes to discipline, whether it means acting appropriately when “off campus,” reminding a noisy student to “pipe down,” or supporting students who make more serious mistakes. The school motto tells all:  Verbum Sap Sat,  “A word to the wise is sufficient.”

The only 6th-12th grade secondary program in Arlington: A full secondary program, with both Middle and High School Students, is a uniquely successful APS model that supports learners throughout their secondary years. Most students attend HBW for seven years and benefit from close interaction with the same small community of peers and teachers during that time.

Partnerships with “co-housed” Stratford Program and HILT:  Inclusion and tolerance defines HBW’s program, and as such HBW benefits from a number of co-enrolled students in the Stratford Program (secondary program for students with special needs) and the HILT program (High Intensity Language Training – secondary education and English for new immigrants, up to age 22).  Students in these two programs have opportunities to attend classes and participate in activities with other HBW students. In addition, HBW includes Arlington’s Secondary Program for Autism (AS), which fully integrates into the school a number of middle and high school students with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Teacher-Advisors:  As students are treated equally with adults in Town Meeting voting, so are they in other relations with adults. At HBW, students address their teachers by their first names and choose their own “teacher- advisor.” To the HBW community, this symbolizes an equal footing in the educational process, and it also stresses for students the need to make their own personal decisions, not by relying on school structure or on the power and authority of a teacher or administrator. For this reason, teacher resources are allocated differently at HBW than at other APS schools: teachers are free to take on extra classes, there is no formal school counselor program, and administrators also teach classes and have “teacher- advisor” groups.

HBW is very popular; many applicants are turned away every year; I think HBW should accept more students. Why can’t APS expand HBW to take 600 more students?

Virtually all of the HBW community see HBW’s size as an integral part of the educational experience, and members feel strongly that increasing HBW enrollment substantially would fundamentally change HBW’s model and jeopardize the school’s success. As the only non-traditional middle and high school in Arlington, HBW provides each student the flexibility to design an educational program that works well for him or her and the opportunity to take additional classes, including independent study.

Teachers are the counseling staff as well as the classroom teachers, and effective relationships between students and teachers are developed through a significant amount of time spent together. It would be hard, probably impossible, to successfully continue this model within a larger school. In the words of one parent,  “…culture is a fragile thing. Once it is lost, it can rarely be reclaimed. Crowding can clearly cause that loss at HBW.”

Moreover, HBW’s common spaces—library, gym, auditorium, and cafeteria—are seriously out of date and over capacity and could not accommodate more students without renovation and expansion. One parent captured the feelings of others, calling H-B “one of the most forgotten schools in the county when it comes to updates.” As enticing as the prospect of potential renovations or an expansion might seem, they would not change the fundamental issue that HBW could not be HBW with a significant increase in students.

Why can’t APS consider building a second HBW program elsewhere in the county?

Different students have different needs and interests, and Arlington provides a range of educational offerings–-IB, language immersion, Montessori, Career Center, and H-B Woodlawn’s non-traditional program—to address students’ needs. This diversity of educational options is an important dimension of Arlington and a key part of the county’s efforts to achieve its vision to provide instruction ”responsive to each student.” We don’t want to lose this. Arlington should work hard to maintain and improve the range of options, to make each school the best it can be, not to reduce the number and quality of available programs.

Instead, some suggest that APS should address some of the increased enrollment through “another HBW” or other alternative programs—for example, one with a STEM focus or arts focus—as well as the expanded use of technology and distance learning. Facilities suggested by the HBW community for consideration include Madison, the Ed Center site, Lubber Run, and the Wilson School. Such an approach would build upon and strengthen Arlington’s commitment to offering a wide range of secondary educational choices and would help to address the excess demand for HBW.

Crowding is everywhere in Arlington, and all schools need to be willing to play a part to ease overcrowding. What has HBW done to help?

While the lottery-driven enrollment cap at H-B Woodlawn is largely fixed, the school’s overall population has been enlarged twice in recent years to help relieve crowding at other Arlington secondary schools. As a result, HBW’s high school program is currently the most crowded high school (105% of capacity, versus 102% for W-L), and the middle school program operates at the 2nd highest capacity utilization rate (slightly below the most-crowded school, Swanson).

To accommodate additional students, there are currently four relocatables at the Stratford building, one for the Stratford Program and three for HBW.

Since APS projections assume a fixed enrollment, published projections have consistently “low-balled” enrollment at HBW.  In reality, every year a number of students with specific educational needs are placed at HBW outside of the lottery-based enrollment. Based on clearly demonstrated history, we can reliably expect that HBW’s actual enrollment in the future will be higher than current projections suggest.

Still, HBW operates within the larger Arlington and APS communities, which have made the school’s success possible. As school enrollments rise, the HBW community recognizes that the school will need to do its part by growing its enrollment as well. For instance, if Arlington’s high schools are operating at an overall utilization rate of 110%, it would be reasonable to set enrollment levels at HBW so that it is also operating at 110% and taking its “fair share” of our growing student population. However, it would be unreasonable to expect a small school like HBW to act as the primary relief valve for one particularly crowded school, just to avoid boundary changes or other potentially difficult decisions.

What programs share space at the Vacation Lane building that houses HBW?  How are these programs essential to the overall HBW program?

HBW’s program includes opportunities for inclusion with co-enrolled students in the Stratford Program (secondary program for students with significant multiple disabilities) and the HILT program (High Intensity Language Training teaching English to new immigrants—secondary students up to age 22).  Students in these two programs have opportunities to attend classes and participate in activities with other HBW students. In addition, HBW includes an Arlington Secondary Program for Autism (AS), which fully integrates into the school a number of middle and high school students with Asperger’s Syndrome. The significant sense of community among the three programs benefits all students and staff. For example, middle and high school H-B Woodlawn students work with Stratford students weekly through the Best Buddies program.

I heard that students “run the school” at HBW. How does that work? What is Town Meeting and how does it play role in defining the HBW program?

Students, teachers, and administrators share the governance of H-B Woodlawn and have since 1971. Town Meeting is H-B Woodlawn’s policy-making forum. Throughout the year, Town Meeting participants, which include staff, students, and other community members, decide on calendar items, the allocation of staffing given to departments, teacher hiring, the expenditure of parent-raised funds, and general school rules. Because the school community is small, each student, teacher, and parent in attendance has an equal vote and all have an equal opportunity for participation.

Governance extends well beyond Town Meeting to the individual level. The school’s motto, Verbum Sap Sat (“a word to the wise is sufficient”) trusts that all community members will govern themselves (make good choices) in terms of use of time and personal behavior, and academic performance. So “students run the school” is only partially correct. Students are active partners with teachers and administrators—they all run the school. The students have many freedoms and responsibilities that make our community so vital and successful. Mutual trust among students and staff is at the essence of the HBW model, as is choice.

Someone told me that the student/teacher ratio is different at HBW, so that average class size is smaller. Is this true?

Not true. HBW uses the same staffing allocation ratios as all the other secondary schools. HBW’s teacher allocation process sometimes allows class size to be slightly lower for some classes by trading guidance counselor allocation for more classroom teachers. HBW uses a Teacher-Advisory system in place of the work of guidance counselors.

HBW is the only combined middle and high school program in Arlington. How is a combined secondary program advantageous?

In multiple ways. First, students can remain for seven years in the same program, cutting out one significant transition. Older students have myriad opportunities to model and mentor students. Younger students quickly build confidence in their interactions with the older students through contact on buses, in the hallway, cafeteria, library, activities, and some classes. Most important, students create real relationships and connections with teachers and staff. During their time at HBW, most students have a teacher for more than one year. Significant relationships are formed that last for 7 years or more. Not only is this interpersonally rich, it makes for strong community. Students want to come to school everyday. Powerful college recommendations are written. Self-advocacy is fostered over these years.

HBW doesn’t have formal varsity sports programs.  Why not relocate the program to leased office building or other rental space to free up the Stratford Building?

H-B Woodlawn has extensive sports activities which use our small, junior high-sized gym and soccer field to their fullest extent with Health and Physical Educations classes for grades 6-10.  In addition we use athletic spaces for quarterly school wide tournaments (volleyball, football, basketball, soccer, badminton) that are school traditions and build community.  HBW is well known for its Ultimate Frisbee program — now the genesis for a thriving countywide Ultimate program that exists today.  HBW’s fields are the primary practice location for all countywide Ultimate practices.  Beyond that, more than 100 HBW high school students play interscholastic sports at their home high schools.

I have heard that the HBW student body is not very diverse, that it does not mirror the County. Is that accurate?

HBW, as a county-wide program, does not draw students from only its local northern Arlington neighborhood, but from all over the county.  South Arlington students are as likely to attend HBW as north Arlington students.  HBW has students from all 5 middle schools and all 3 high schools, and the ratio of students enrolled from each school is roughly equal when compared to the overall number of students in each attendance zone.  For example 7.4 percent of students who live in the Wakefield attendance zone attend HBW, and 7.0 percent of the students in the Yorktown attendance zone attend HBW, despite HBW’s location within the Yorktown boundary.

While HBW’s demographic profile does not mirror the county’s overall makeup (61 percent of HBW’s students are white compared with 47 percent among all students in the county), HBW’s student population is significantly more diverse than it would be if HBW served as a neighborhood school.  HBW’s students come from 46 different countries and speak 27 different languages at home.  In addition, HBW’s student body matches the county’s distribution of special education students.  HBW’s special education students make up 15.8% of the student body compared to 14 percent county-wide.