All the president’s kids
To the students and teachers at Sidwell Friends Middle School, Malia Obama is just another sixth grader, says Principal Sally Selby. Then again, to Selby (BSEd ’75) President Obama’s daughter is just another student who claims 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. as home.
In Selby’s 26 years at Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C., numerous children of presidents and vice presidents—Chelsea Clinton, Albert Gore III and Finnegan Biden in addition to Malia Obama—have walked the private Quaker school’s hallways. Today, Selby oversees 350 students at the middle school and attributes the school’s academic rigor and values as to why the school is special.
“It’s rooted in Quaker values, and it does make a difference,” she says. “It gives us a way to ask the best of our kids, not only as students, but as people.”
Nearly 130 years old, Sidwell Friends believes that there is “that of God” in each person, providing a reason to be kind to others, use talents for others’ benefit and strive for peace.
Malia and the rest of her class participated in community service every other Friday afternoon. In the spring, they helped the recycling program at Sidwell Friends and cleaned the campus and a nearby neighborhood.
The school also promotes an understanding of diversity—about 40 percent of the students are not white—and stresses empathy, equity and social justice in age-appropriate ways. Middle school students present what they have learned to the lower school in Bethesda, Md., where Sasha Obama is in third grade.
Students attend a weekly silent worship service, though students are encouraged to speak if they want. In addition, when school starts at 8 a.m., students spend five minutes in silence.
“It’s a Quaker practice,” Selby says. “It’s just the idea of centering so that you start the day sort of more focused and calmer.”
The middle school tuition is about $30,000, and about 23 percent of the students, including lower, middle and upper schools, receive need-based financial aid.
Many of Selby’s family members live in Gainesville, Ga., but her ties to UGA reach back to before she attended in the ’70s. Selby’s grandfather, Jonathan Rogers, was president of the university from 1949 to 1950, and her mother, Katherine Rogers Williams (AB ’33), taught in the School of Social Work when it opened.
Selby received her English education degree from UGA and chose Sidwell Friends initially because it was where she could find a job.
After being an English teacher and assistant principal, Selby became principal six years ago.
Although she says she cannot divulge any fun facts about the president’s daughter, Selby recognizes the curiosity surrounding Malia.
“It’s wonderful, and we’re so glad to have her.”