Teaching for Social Change, Activism & Leadership

Every year, Burke students experience a year-long, integrated civics, equity, and leadership curriculum, grounded in social justice pedagogy. We draw inspiration from our founders' vision: a learning environment in which students become active and socially responsible citizen-leaders, committed to advancing social justice in their communities.


With support from an E.E. Ford Grant and its resident scholar, Dr. Katy Swalwell, who focuses on social justice pedagogy in independent schools, Burke seeks to move beyond traditional models of service, diversity, and leadership in independent schools and to prepare students to become activist allies and leaders in high school and beyond.


To graduate students with a sense of social responsibility and the skills necessary to engage in effective allyship and ethical leadership by developing our students’ awareness of injustice in their communities and beyond, understanding of its root causes, and a sense of responsibility for dismantling structural inequities to create a more just and equitable world.

"...it has been demonstrated that youthful activism is a strong predictor of lifetime involvement with outcomes including likelihood of voting and membership in voluntary organizations [...] Although one cannot artificially create historical crises or social movements, policy makers can design programs of service that help youth experience political agency and instill a sense of social obligation" (Youniss and Yates 2003).


In 2019-20, as Burke consciously moves beyond traditional models of service, diversity, and leadership, we will no longer require students to earn service hours outside of school.

Direct service will remain a part of each grade’s experience; however, rather than experiencing service as an endpoint, students will be oriented toward a social change mindset – engaging in critical research, reflection, root cause analysis, and advocacy through long-term institutional partnerships.

Middle School Curriculum

List of 3 items.

  • 6th Grade - Citizenship at the Margins

    Students focus on what it means to be a citizen, past and present, and the identities that have forced some groups to exist at the margin vs. the center of American life. Students apply these questions to their comparative study of American identity starting with the first interactions of native communities to today

    Trip to New York City: April 2020
  • 7th Grade - Exploring Dystopian, Utopian, and Just Societies

  • 8th Grade - Social Change and the American Civil Rights Movement

    Students learn about the cultural, literary, historical and political lives of citizens of the DC area and the southern United States through an interdisciplinary program in history, music, English, values and ethics, and visual arts that explores the Black Freedom Struggle and culminates with a trip to the Deep South. After the trip, students organize and run an all-school assembly program about their learning.

    Trip to Alabama: February 2020

High School Curriculum

List of 4 items.

  • 9th Grade - Food Justice in Washington, DC

    Through a critical lens, 9th graders explore Food Justice in Washington, DC by engaging in direct service, learning, and advocacy at the Capital Area Food Bank,  Rosemount Center, Thrive DC, Share Our Strength and within the school curriculum and guest speakers. They also lead a schoolwide food drive, an Empty Bowls fundraiser, and participate in two day-long retreats on leadership equity and inclusion.
  • 10th Grade - Action Civics in the DMV

    Beginning with the question, “What is an important issue facing my community today?,” each student researches, writes, and delivers a soapbox speech on their issue. Students then engage in an oral history project, interviewing individuals directly impacted by their issue and analyzing the intersections of power, people, and places. The year culminates with a “listening party” when they share their learning. The curriculum is delivered in partnership with Mikva Challenge DC, DC Humanities and StoryCorps DC.
  • 11th Grade - Environmental and Social Justice in West Virginia

    A year-long cross curricular examination of environmental justice, storytelling, and labor history prepares students for a week-long experiential learning trip to West Virginia with Experience Learning in Spruce Knob where they learn to appreciate nuance in communities, arguments, and allyship as they draw connections between their communities in DC and West Virginia. Upon returning students lead a Teach In for parents on issues explored throughout the year and on the trip. 

    West Virginia Trip: Summer 2020
  • 12th Grade - Effective Allyship and Ethical Leadership

    Students will engage in researching their own topic over the course of their senior year. The year culminates in two weeks off-campus for senior projects.

Community Partnerships | 2019-20

Capital Area Food Bank
DC Humanities
DC Oral History Collaborative
Experience Learning
Food & Friends
Homes Not Borders
Horace Mann ES
Mikva Challenge
North Brentwood AME Zion Church
Rosemount Center
Share Our Strength
Solutions in Hometown Connections
Thrive DC



The Center's Leadership Team

List of 3 members.

  • Photo of Christiane Connors

    Christiane Connors 

    Director of Civic Engagement / HS Health, Values, & Ethics
    202-362-8882 x652
    Georgetown University - B.A.
    University of Sussex - M.A.
    George Washington University - Ed.D.
  • Photo of Steven Lee

    Steven Lee 

    Director of Equity and Inclusion / Health, Values, & Ethics Department Chair
    202-362-8882 x657
    UCLA - B.A.
    UC Berkeley - M.A.
  • Photo of Stacy Smith

    Stacy (Hough) Smith 

    Director of Leadership Development / MS and HS Health, Values, & Ethics
    202-362-8882 x622
    San Diego State University - B.A.
Co-ed, progressive, college prep school in Washington, DC featuring a challenging curriculum in an inclusive environment for grades 6-12.