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What does the SPS curriculum include?

The School of Public Service is a unique program that brings approximately 45 rising high school seniors from all over the United States and the world to the heart of Washington, D.C. Through classroom experiences, field trips, and our speakers program, students undertake an in-depth exploration of government, politics, and public service.

What field trips do SPS students take?

Located in the heart of Washington, D.C., SPS brings students to meet with public servants in their places of work. Whether traveling to the West Wing of the White House or the floor of the Senate, students will enjoy insider access to Washington’s elite institutions. Students have visited the Federal Reserve Board, embassies, think tanks, TV studios, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Kennedy Center, and the Supreme Court, just to name a few.

What does the speaker program at SPS look like?

Students will learn firsthand from Washington insiders how Washington works and how they have climbed to the top of their fields. The speakers program brings SPS in contact with a wide array of individuals devoted to public service in its many forms. The speakers do not lecture their audience from afar; they spark discussion (frequently spirited!) with our well-informed, engaged students. You can expect to hear from Senators and Congresspeople, federal judges, awarding-winning journalists, seasoned foreign service officers, including ambassadors and diplomats, presidential campaign staffers, and policy experts, among many others.
“SPS opened my eyes to myriad public service options beyond politics and foreign service. It expanded the frontiers of my knowledge while exposing me to a variety of different and passionately argued points of view, and it gave me a place to make lifelong friends.”

What do students do in the SPS classroom?

CASE STUDIES

Students use the case study method (the teaching method used in graduate programs in law, business, and public policy) to dissect public policy issues ranging from the debate over the use of enhanced interrogation methods and drones in the war on terror, to the ethics of undercover journalism, to the efforts here and abroad to achieve equity in education. Discussions of these issues in class are largely student-led, with students playing the role of decision-maker on challenging questions of public policy.

SOPHISTICATED SIMULATIONS

Picture yourself as a member of a political action committee: You’ll draft proposed legislation on your pet issue, seek Congressional sponsors for your bill, and present and defend your bill in a press conference. But will the full Congress—played by your classmates—pass it? Or step into the courtroom, as you and your classmates act as lawyers in a mock Supreme Court argument of a case from the “real” Supreme Court’s docket: Can state legislatures draw congressional districts to favor one political party? What’s the proper scope of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms? What are the limits of First Amendment Free Speech rights for high school students? Your classmates will serve as the justices and rule on your arguments.

ORGANIZED DEBATES

You’ll hone your debating and speaking skills in practice in every case study, in a public speaking course designed around public policy, and in organized debates throughout the session, including the annual Congressional Debate that caps off the session. Need a little extra ammunition for your policy argument? A mini-course on economics will help strengthen your arguments.

What do students do on weekends?

SPS students will participate in weekend excursions throughout the metropolitan area. Typical weekend plans include museum visits, taking in a baseball game, watching a fireworks display at Mount Vernon, laser tag, movies, bowling, a country carnival with amusement rides and games as well as time to explore Washington National Cathedral and the neighborhood surrounding St. Albans.

What will happen to SPS if the public health situation won’t allow for a residential program?

SPS faced this issue in the summer of 2020 and fashioned an online option so that SPS students could still enjoy a robust program remotely. Students logged on from home during a four-hour window each day to hear from renowned public servants, engage in case study discussions, participate in public policy simulations, and get to know like-minded peers from around the country. Forty-two students joined us from seventeen different states and one foreign country, and they got to hear from an incredible array of speakers, including former White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, four-star admiral William McRaven, former White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, journalist David Frum, former White House national security expert Fiona Hill, and U.S. Congressman Raul Ruiz, among others. They were also able to participate in an online discussion with young activists in East Africa working on climate issues. And against all odds, they were able to forge real connections with their virtual classmates.

“The most memorable parts were the connections I made with peers from across the nation…. With a combination of serious and fun topics, I feel like I made relationships that will last well-beyond SPS. While I loved the speakers and the discussions about politics, my fellow members of the SPS community make the program what it is and define it even in these very unusual times. I look forward to when COVID recedes and some semblance of normalcy returns, so I can meet some of my fellow SPS students in person.”