Archdiocese of Washington Welcomes Catholic Girls School

July 26, 2010

Washington Middle School for Girls (WMSG) in Southeast Washington, DC is officially a Catholic school, having met the requirements of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Under Catholic Church law, a school must receive permission from the local bishop – in this case, Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl – before it can be called Catholic. This requirement helps ensure that Catholic schools follow Catholic teaching in their mission and programs. In May 2010, two schools in Montgomery County received similar approval.

WMSG was founded in 1997 by two congregations of women religious, the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and the Religious of Jesus and Mary, together with the National Council of Negro Women. Their aim was to focus on the needs of at-risk middle school girls in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, DC. This past year, the school served 90 students in grades 4–8 on two campuses: THEARC, located at 1901 Mississippi Avenue SE, Washington, DC, and Washington View, at 2683 Douglass Road SE, Washington, DC.

The school, which serves very low-income families, charges no tuition. To cover the cost of the students’ education, WMSG annually has to raise $1.5 million from individuals, foundations and local businesses. All of the students are African-American girls; 90 percent are from single-parent homes; 85 percent qualify for federal free and reduced lunch programs; and over 95 percent are not Catholic. WMSG has a 97 percent attendance rate and 98 percent of its students graduate from high school. The students are accepted at some of the area’s most competitive high schools, including Connelly School of the Holy Child, Elizabeth Seton High School, Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School, Georgetown Visitation and Washington Math, Science and Technology High School.

WMSG is an independent Catholic school. This means that it will continue to be responsible for its own governance, academic quality, day-to-day operations and finances, while also meeting the Catholic identity standards established by the archdiocese.

“The Archdiocese of Washington is very happy to welcome the Washington Middle School for Girls as a part of the Catholic school network in this region. WMSG has a proven track record of academic success and a strong Catholic identity that encourages young women to excel both as individuals and as part of a broader community,” said Thomas Burnford, Secretary of Education for the Archdiocese of Washington.

Sr. Mary Bourdon, RJM, administrator for the Washington Middle School for Girls, noted that the two sponsoring religious communities have a combined total of over 100 years of service in the Archdiocese of Washington, as well as strong traditions of educating girls internationally. That tradition is immensely enriched by the collaboration of the National Council of Negro Women as the school works to meet the needs of the African American community in the District of Columbia.

In seeking recognition as a Catholic school, WMSG submitted a proposal that detailed how the school would meet archdiocesan policies regarding Catholic identity, the school’s relationship with the archbishop and archdiocese; sacramental life; and religious education, which is required as part of the Policies for Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of Washington that were released in September 2009. The school’s application was reviewed by staff from the archdiocesan Catholic Schools Office and Board of Education and site visits were made to the school. A report and recommendation then was submitted to Archbishop Wuerl.

During the 2009-10 school year, 96 Catholic schools served 29,000 students in 96 schools in the District of Columbia and Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s counties in Maryland. Sixty-seven of the schools were archdiocesan; 29 were independent Catholic schools.

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