See the future. Be the future.

Washington Leadership Academy (WLA) opened in 2016 with a clear vision: to build a school with technology at its core that prepares young people for college and careers, with lives of leadership and positive change.

This is why every single one of WLA’s nearly 400 students takes four years of computer science. Students have direct experience with emerging technologies, including web design, virtual reality, and a state-of-the-art MakerSpace. And all students have access to internships. The school also encourages connections to its D.C. community. “One of the key things that helps us make sure that we are continuing systems of equity is that we have incorporated our stakeholder’s voice, especially those that are marginalized,” said Principal Eric Collazo. “It’s important to empathize and to incorporate the feedback from families, students, and staff members—it helps when people feel they are part of the same team.”

WLA’s founding vision is yielding results. In 2019, it single-handedly tripled the number of Black girls passing the AP Computer Science Principles exam in all of Washington, D.C. And WLA received the College Board’s AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award two years in a row for expanding young women’s access to AP Computer Science. Some WLA graduates have gone on to become leaders and changemakers—like Jerome Foster II, an environmental activist appointed to the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council during President Joseph Biden’s administration.

De’Von Lewis
“If you ask for something at my school, if you think it’s worthwhile they’ll give you all the support you need. They’ll give you what you need to be successful. My teachers know that home life comes before school life and know that what happens at home comes first.”


Class of 2022

Stacy Kane, Co-Founder and Executive Director
“We’re going to have [students] tapped into the technologies as they are coming out in real-time rather than having them be twenty years behind.”

Stacy Kane

Co-founder and Executive Director

Design Principles in Action

Learn how WLA applies these XQ Design Principles to sustain student success

Design Principles in Action

Strong mission and culture

WLA combines civic education, social justice education, and support for students as they explore who they are and where they want to go in life—all with an emphasis on STEM. All WLA students take computer science and get hands-on experience with emerging technology, including virtual/ augmented reality. A teacher-to-teacher coaching system also helps teachers improve their practice, allows school leaders to share responsibility with lead teachers, and builds a pool of leaders inside the school.

Meaningful, engaged learning

WLA combines real-world learning with interdisciplinary project-based learning. In one project, WLA students invited their community to “WLActivism: Rock The Vote,” where students and staff led attendees in short segments about the right to vote, issues that are important to their communities, voter suppression, and how to register to vote. One student’s segment about voter suppression engaged the more than 100 participants with a related video asking students to identify any personal ways that they felt voter suppression has impacted them or people they know. WLA also partnered with CommonLit to create an ELA curriculum in 2018 that’s now used in high schools around the country. 

Washington Leadership academy
Washington Leadership Academy

Caring, trusting relationships

WLA’s leaders focus on recruiting people of color to consciously and consistently serve as teachers, professional partners, and mentors. This representation helps students of color (who make up the vast majority of WLA’s population) see themselves and their own potential. Each student is assigned an advisor to help them achieve their emotional, personal, and academic goals, including helping them with college planning. Students participate in formal advisory periods, with one teacher per 10 students, and 1:1 meetings with their advisors. A full-time psychologist on staff meets with students who have experienced trauma and provides support to their teachers. Rather than punitive responses, the school has developed an intervention system with restorative justice practices. The school team also prioritizes wellness, making sure that students have access to counseling or social work services. Social worker Molly Graham said WLA also offers “touchpoints” such as “mini-lessons around how to combat anxiety, how to use behavioral activation to fight depression, how to practice mindfulness and gratitude, and finding space in your home to be able to do these things.”

Youth voice and choice

“What we want is to not just have the sense of students co-leading with us, but actually leading adults,” Principal Eric Collazo said. WLA uses anonymous surveys to collect feedback from all students. A student representative meets weekly with the school’s executive director, principal, and other senior leaders to offer their perspective on everything from curricular decisions to the school calendar, staffing, and what types of professional development teachers may need. In 2023, members of WLA’s executive leadership team invited three juniors to a full-day retreat. They persuaded WLA leadership to train more students in peer mediation. Students also help greet visitors during their free periods, by helping out at the entrance and giving tours.

Smart use of time, space, and tech

New digital tools level the playing field for disenfranchised students In the school’s state-of-the-art makerspace, students learn development, graphic design, and hardware engineering with the support of both teachers and outside experts. Tech partners also help teachers build virtual reality into courses across the academic curriculum, tutor and support students, and provide engineers to assist students with computer science. In Project Studio Time, students practice real-world skills and apply their learning in the community. 

Community partnerships

All juniors at WLA are required to complete an internship with a community organization. Examples include robotics, mindfulness, running, advanced coding, DJ basics, and photography, among many others. WLA’s commitment to social justice extends beyond its commitment to its school culture and includes supporting students in becoming engaged citizens through interdisciplinary projects and direct action in their communities. 

Washington Leadership Academy

Student Outcomes

WLA’s Class of 2022 had a graduation rate of 82 percent, nearly six percentage points higher than DC overall. These students participated in and passed at least one AP exam at rates double or more than the national average. About nine in ten 2022 WLA graduates (89 percent) participated in at least one AP course and exam, compared with only 35 percent of 2022 graduates nationwide. More than half of WLA graduates (54 percent) earned a score of 3 or higher on at least one AP exam—the minimum score many colleges accept for course credit—compared with just 22 percent of 2022 graduates nationally.

This exceptionally high rate of AP participation puts WLA at the forefront of American high schools opening access to college-level content for groups that have historically had much less access to such courses. All of WLA’s 2022 graduates were from low-income families, and 89 percent identified as Black.