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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Congressional School celebrating 75th anniversary

It’s a big year for the Congressional Schools of Virginia: The elite private school on Sleepy Hollow Road in Mason District is celebrating its 75th anniversary.

A series of celebrations is going on all year, says Chris Pryor, Congressional’s development director, with the main events – a golf tournament at the Reston National Golf Course and a gala at the Falls Church Marriott Fairview Park – scheduled for the weekend of April 24-25.

Congressional features small class sizes.
The school was founded in 1939 by Malcolm and Evelyn Devers as a preschool. Over the years, it relocated several times and expanded to include more grades. By 1960, the school had moved to its current location and served students in preschool through grade 12. In the mid-1980s, the board of directors decided to focus on younger children and phased out the high school, says Executive Director Janet Marsh. After the Devers retired in the 1970s, their son, Bill Devers, ran the school for many years and still serves on the board. 

Today, the school enrolls about 350 children ranging from infants and toddlers in the Bright Beginnings program, a preschool, elementary school (K-4), and middle school (grades 5-8). Another 2,000 children attend Congressional’s 10-week summer camp.

The lobby in the main building.
The 40-acre campus has a ropes course, zip line, climbing wall, archery range, two swimming pools, and a five-acre horse-riding ring, Marsh hopes to break ground in late March for a new sport court for basketball and tennis.

Annual tuition at Congressional for 2015-16 ranges from $21,250 for Bright Beginnings to $25,500 for grades 5-8. Bus service, school meals, and morning and afternoon child care are extra, and there are additional fees, such as a $500 enrollment fee.

Students visit their lockers between classes.
There’s also an extra charge for after-school and summer-camp riding lessons. There are 15 horses at Congressional, but they’re only there during the warmer months. The school doesn’t have a barn so the horses are boarded in western Virginia during the winter.

When asked why parents would pay so much to send their kids to Congressional, Marsh talks about the high level of accountability, challenging academics aimed at sparking students’ intellectual curiosity, and high level of engagement. “The bar is set very high here and children rise to the occasion,” she says.

Congressional offers riding lessons.
Foreign language instruction starts at an early age, and the arts and music are emphasized, she added. Technology is a key part of the instructional program; every middle school student has an iPad, and kindergarten and first-grade classrooms are equipped with smart tables that function like giant iPads. Also, everyone has to participate in a sport; there’s a “no-cut policy.”

Another benefit is the small number of students, which means “everyone knows your name,” Marsh says. The average class has 15 students and there are rarely more than two classes per grade. There are only about 25 to 26 eighth graders. Seventh grade has the most students, with 35. Small groups of students meet with an advisor every morning. 

According to Marsh, about a third of the graduating class are “lifers” who’ve been at the school since kindergarten or before. Students come from all over Northern Virginia, and there’s a fair number from the immediate area, she says.

There are several events throughout the year for alumni, and many of them stay in touch with their former teachers, especially middle school history and Latin teacher John Cavanaugh, who’s been there for decades and is known as a legend around the school, says Pryor. Several other teachers have had long careers at Congressional, including kindergarten teacher Janet Turk who was recently recognized for 30 years of service.

The 40-acre campus is a hidden gem in overcrowded Mason District; a new sport court will be installed this spring.
When asked if anyone famous attended Congressional, Marsh cited actress Liv Tyler and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

Congressional participates in the Emerging Scholars program, which seeks to identify students from lower-income backgrounds “who are highly capable and who would have greater opportunities later in life” if given the opportunity to attend a 14-month weekend academy, Marsh says. Congressional offers free tuition to one Emerging Scholar annually for the sixth grade.

Community service is a key part of the Congressional experience, she notes. Every fall, the school has a service day, where students carry out projects to help support programs serving the Willston Center, Inova Fairfax Hospital, the Culmore community, or Sleepy Hollow Elementary School, the public school just down the road.

Congressional also has a partnership with Sleepy Hollow. Autistic students from Sleepy Hollow come to Congressional to visit the horses, and Congressional students assemble “power packs,” full of food for the weekend for Sleepy Hollow students from lower-income families. 


  1. This school is a jewel in our district. Wish I had the money to cough up the $30k tuition to send my future kids there.

  2. Times sure have changed. When I was a child in the Lake Barcroft area, only students who could not handle the public school curriculum at Sleepy Hollow or Belvedere enrolled at Congressional. Now, we have to read about Congressional students treating Sleepy Hollow as a place for private-school students to earn community service credits. I hate to rain on their anniversary, but I wish we did more to support and celebrate our public schools and weren't conveying the message that people should envy those sending their children to private schools.

    1. someone sounds bitter. You sure did infer a lot here that was not implied.

    2. Regarding reputation (from 30 years ago in my case) -- this is true. But also good news that the school has made such strides.

  3. Since when does expensive equal elite? I've never heard of anyone not getting in to Congressional as long as they were willing to pony up the $$$.