Lab School of Washington

Lab School of Washington

The Lab School of Washington is a school for students with learning difficulties, operated by Sally Liberman Smith, an American educator who taught at American University, where she directed the [ Graduate Program in Learning Disabilities] since 1976 to 2007. Most of the graduate program's students receive their training at the Lab School and then move on to other schools around the nation. []


In 1967, Sally Lieberman Smith was faced with her son Gary's difficulties with learning in school. She started home schooling Gary and eventually began teaching other children faced with similar learning difficulties as Gary. Mrs. Smith would have her students dress in attire from different time periods or initiate other artistic activities in order to teach history, math, reading, and other subjects. Eventually, she was receiving more students and had to find a larger space for teaching.


Some of the Lab School graduates take Mrs. Smith’s teacher education program at American University and return to the school as teachers.

Today, the school teaches students in grades K-12, who have moderate to high-leveled learning difficulties, but who have average or above average I.Q. levels. These students have trouble with reading, writing, spelling, and math. All of the academics are taught through an arts-based curriculum, whether through the performing arts, dramatic arts, or visual arts. In addition, all classes are small-sized, according to the subject; this enables the teacher(s) to prepare personalized lesson plans in order to meet the students’ academic learning styles and needs. Teachers at The Lab School of Washington are dedicated at teaching and helping students find strategies to work with and around their learning difficulties.

The Lab School has four divisions. The Elementary program serves students from ages six through ten. The Intermediate program serves students from ages ten through thirteen.

These division programs are organized in to groups, instead of grades, as these students are not graded. These two divisions teach history through the arts by forming academic clubs. In the Cave Club, students make believe they are humans in the Cave Man era.clarifyme In the Gods Club, the students make believe they are living in the era of the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Other academic clubs include the Knights and Ladies Club, the Renaissance Club, the Museum Club, and the Industrialists Club.

In the Junior High division, social studies classes include Humanities for the seventh grade and Democracy for the eighth grade. In Humanities class, three countries are studied. After each country is studied, students invite their families to a luncheon, where they are served food from the studied country. In the Democracy class, students learn about the history of the United States Government and how our government functions.

The High School division teaches through a college-bound curriculum that is experiential and arts-based. All high school students may campaign, during the first few weeks of the school year, for certain positions for the student council, thus giving the student some political experience.

The Junior class includes and internship program to prepare students for the business world. Juniors are placed in an internship job that suits both their interests and skills. Most students work off-campus for businesses in the surrounding area. Juniors are receive assistance and guidance in applying for colleges and choosing a college that is compatible with their interests, academic needs, and career aspirations; 90% go on to college.

The Lab School also has a night school program for adults with learning difficulties. This program helps them with their academic-related aspects of their workday.

Also available are on-campus clinical services. These services consist of psychological services, occupational therapy, speech and language pathology, and tutoring and testing services. Some students who do not attend the Lab School can also receive these services.

Each year, Ms. Smith invites well-known people who have learning difficulties to the school. She gives them an award for working through their difficulties and any academic-related challenges they face in their careers. Some of the awardees include Cher, Tom Cruise, Henry Winkler, Tracey Gold, Magic Johnson, Daniel Stern, Susan Butcher, Fannie Flagg, Vince Vaughn, Don Coryell, Billy Bob Thornton, Danny Glover, Charles Schwab, and other notable individuals. Students get to have a rare opportunity to meet these celebrities and ask them questions on how they deal with their learning difficulties.

With the inundating number of applicants, Ms. Smith opened a Lab School in Baltimore, Maryland, and a school in Philadelphia is adopting her teaching methods.


The Lab School of Washington has earned a tremendous amount of recognition. For example, in 1994, the United States Department of Education recognized the school as a Network Model Education Program. In May 2006, the National Broadcasting Corporation’s Today Show crowned Sally L. Smith as Queen of the Day, honoring outstanding mothers. The School has issued many publications including PBS video “Teach Me Different,” and several books available at Barnes & Noble Booksellers.Many schools throughout the country are adopting The Lab School’s teaching methods.

The school is deeply affected by the death of Ms. Smith.


* [ Official Lab School Website]
* [ Philadelphia School]

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