"Miracles can happen," said Bishop John Bryson Chane during the Sept. 24 installation at Washington National Cathedral of the board, faculty and staff of the Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys. "This really is for many the beginning of a dream."
In the carved wooden stalls of the Great Choir, the school's first Pre-K pupils sat, legs dangling, during the celebratory Evensong as the organ soared and The Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys sang traditional Anglican canticles.
They colored quietly as their teacher, Bruce Holmes, read the first lesson from Psalm 78 - "Hear my teaching, O my people; incline your ears to the words of my mouth - and introduced themselves on cue, saying "I am a child of God," after giving their names.
Earlier in the week, across the river, the 13 boys were just as collected as they settled in to the routines of their new school, which is housed temporarily at St. Philip's, Anacostia.
Neatly dressed in their school uniforms - navy blue shirts and khaki trousers - the 4-year-olds learned to write the letter A and the number 3 and practiced following directions and dining quietly at the lunch table.
Standing at the blackboard in a classroom set up so new that many of the materials are still sealed in plastic, Holmes and co-teacher Maxene Collie made a bar chart.
"What kind of pizza do you like?" Collie asked the class, distilling the eager responses into three groups - pepperoni, cheese and sausage.
"How many friends love pepperoni?" she asked, as four hands shot up. "Say cheese if youre in the cheese group!"
The pupils formed lines according to their preference and then counted the number in each line, as Holmes chalked the numbers onto the graph.
"I like the way we're practicing that special new word, self control," Collie said, as the children squirmed around but stayed in line.
Later, it was time to review the letter A.
"What sound does that make?" Collie asked.
"Which shape does a letter A look like?" Homes asked, as the children collected their journals and prepared to practice writing the letter A, afterwards drawing pictures of things that begin with A - such as apricots, apples, airplanes and alligators ("No, crocodile doesn't begin with A. No, neither does jaguar.")
Reviewing the number 3, the pupils held up three fingers ("and you're doing an excellent job if you're doing it quietly") sorted magnets into groups of three and learned a little visual rhyme to help it stick ("left bunny goes around the tree, around the tree, and thats the way you make a 3").
As the students worked, Jeri Hubbard, support teacher and co-director of the after-school cultural program, sharpened pencils and wrote out poems on a flip chart.
The pupils have already started to make the classroom their own: a banner decorated with their handprints hangs on the wall, along with a chart listing their birthdays and their latest artwork. In the central classroom area, low tables surrounded by red chairs are labeled with their names, and their small new backpacks hang neatly in their cubbies.
"I think we're blessed that it's going so well," said the Rev. Preston Hannibal, the diocese's canon for academic ministries. "The kids seem happy, the parents seem happy, the staff is doing a wonderful job and the support of the entire diocese has been terrific."
That support was in evidence at the packed Founders Day Evensong at the Cathedral, which is slated to become an annual tradition.
"I was encouraged by the number of parish clergy who took time out of their busy schedule to support us at the Evensong - encouraged and overwhelmed," Hannibal said. "The parents came into the Cathedral sort of not knowing what to expect, but left with an understanding of the seriousness of the school and the seriousness and really the commitment of a community to help with their children. I was thrilled to see that."
The teachers, he said, are "more than we could have hoped for - total commitment, not only to the students but also to the mission and philosophy of the school."
Under the watchful eyes of visiting board members and photos of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the school's namesake and inspiration, Bishop John T. Walker, they must prove every day they are equal to the task.
So far, board members say, they're getting an "A."
For more news on the Walker School, go to the Walker School website.
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