Like many other First Families, including the Nixon girls and Chelsea Clinton, Sasha and Malia Obama attend Sidwell Friends, a K-12 Quaker day school in Washington, D.C. and Bethesda, Maryland. The school was founded in 1883 as Friends’ Select School as a co-ed day school only four blocks from the White House. Though the school has transitioned to a new campus on Wisconsin Avenue, its curriculum and values are still true to the school’s Quaker roots. The school enrolls about 1,100 students, and about 40% of the students represent diversity.
The school is guided by Quaker beliefs in equality and social justice. Each of the three divisions—the lower, middle, and upper schools—pursues diversity and tolerance. In the Lower School, students concentrate on building a sense of community and are introduced to different cultures. In the middle school, students discuss and learn about racism, sexism, and social justice, and these discussions continue in the upper school, where students also pursue activism through organizations such as the People of Color Conference, which is organized by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). Each division in the school has a diversity coordinator, and there is also an all-school diversity coordinator. In the school’s words, “the Quaker belief that there is ‘that of God’ in each of us shapes everything we do at Sidwell Friends School. It inspires us to show kindness and respect toward one another. It motivates us to recognize and nurture each person's unique gifts. It teaches us to apply our talents in service to others and to work courageously for peace.”
The school is also committed to environmental sustainability and to being a green school. The school has conducted various renovation projetcts over the years in accordance with the highest standards of environmental sustainability. For example, in 2010, Sidwell Friends opened an athletic center with artificial turf and is pursuing a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating for this building. The Lower School gym was awarded a gold LEED rating, and the Middle School renovation, completed in 2006, was awarded a Platinum LEED rating in 2007, the first K-12 school in the world to be awarded this high rating for environmental sustainability and the first building in Washington, D.C. to receive this honor. The school also has a green curriculum to teach students in all divisions about sustainable living. In addition, the school installed solar panels on the Lower School gym, paid for by the bonds issued to members of the school community.
Quaker values also inform the school’s curriculum at every level. For example, in the Lower School, children are taught the value of quiet reflection through Quaker Meeting for Worship. Lower School students also take part in community service projects; for example, each Wednesday, they bring a vegetable to school that becomes part of a soup for Martha’s Kitchen, a Washington, D.C. soup kitchen. Middle School students take part in weekly Meetings for Worship and begin each day with a silent period. Quaker values become part of the classroom discussions about peace and social justice. In addition, Middle School students take part in different community service projects and in two international exchanges with students in Moscow and in York, England. Upper School students take part in community service projects to help other members of their community, and they must complete at least 60 hours of service to graduate (many complete more than this amount). The Upper School’s college counseling program explains its mission in the following words: the counseling program “should not stop at simply ensuring that our students achieve acceptance into college. We aspire to have our students begin to discern which of their talents, goals, and principles will inform their lives as they move into adulthood. We hope to help them move from adolescence into full maturity.” The counseling program, like the academic program at Sidwell Friends, is consistent with the school’s Quaker values. Though the school does not release a list of where its graduates attend college, the list circulated to seniors’ parents substantiates that students attend many top-flight colleges across the country.