I am moving to the DC area this summer and am looking for a kindergarden/elementary school for my son who has a NLD. I have never lived in the area and I am currently stationed in Afghanistan and have no way to research schools other than via the web. Can anyone recommend any schools in the area?
Oh, dear. I lived in this area for eight years, and the schools are a problem in general.
You're dealing here with three different state governments and their own curricula. Then the school districts are organized by counties and there are probably ten counties in the DC subirbs. So right away you have a fragmented situation, and what is happening in one place will be totally different from what is happening a few miles down the road.
I can't give you any specific names, and programs and management change from year to year, but here are some guidelines to start with.
the DC schools have been trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon for far too long. Too many experimental programs, too many changes of both programs and personnel, too little money spent on solid education and on structure and on basics like books; you have schools that are literally crumbling, firetraps; you have some good teachers, and then some other people who are supposed to be teachers but are themselves functionaly illiterate. There are a few schools fighting a successful rearguard action, some in wealthier districts and some just with good people in charge, but these are unfortunately the exception. There is often a waiting list for the better schools and programs -- be careful, you may not be able to send your kid to the school down the road. Most people avoid DC if they have the choice; of course this leads to a vicious circle, but it's a fact of life.
the inner suburbs, Prince George's County, southern Montgomery County, Arlington/Alexandria: a lot of people move here to get away from the problems in DC. Unfortunately many bring all their old habits with them. Some good schools and some pretty dreadful. Magnet schools offer special programs, but there are waiting lists and/or lotteries, and again your kid may not be able to go to the one you want, even if you live next door. Examine very closely.
the outer suburbs, northern Montgomery, Anne Arundel, Fairfax, Loudun: a few schools maintain rural attitudes and lower expectations. The majority have been "yuppified" and have a lot of high-achieving parents who have high expectations for their kids. In general, a good choice of schools. In particular, look behind the scenes and see how much help there is in reaching those high expectations, and what happens to kids who have trouble and need help. But this is the area most people look in. Housing is also more affordable for the same quality of life.
Private schools: a booming business, especially considering the above. But many of the public schools offer more and better than the private schools, IF (and it's a big if) you can get your kid into the right school and the right program. (My daughter graduated from Eleanor Roosevelt in Prince George's and got a very good education.) Investigate any private school closely, and make sure it's not just a negative choice, not just an attempted escape from the city problems. Some good small religious schools -- look and ask around.
For LD students, the best school in this area, and I am a professional in the field as well as a parent of two learning-disabled students, by far, is The Lab School of Washington, a world-reknowned school that goes from pre-kg to 12th grade. It's arts-based and treats the whole child. My two daughters were fortunate enough go there. Check out the web site and see what you think. It's very competitive and each year it gets more and more difficult to get in there. The school has a strong parents association, and everyone feels a strong bond with the school.