Now Boarding: Cooke Foundation money has Tucker living in a Madeira dorm these days.
Now Boarding: Cooke Foundation money has Tucker living in a Madeira dorm these days. Credit: Charles Steck

Jack Kent Cooke’s last will and testament screwed over his eldest son and Redskins fans—it’s the document that greased the tracks that Dan Snyder rode in on, after all. But Cooke did right by Brielle Tucker.

Tucker is a cool kid who lives down the block from me in Petworth. She walked by one day this summer wearing a T-shirt that read madeira girls rock! She said she got the shirt because she was about to start her freshman year at Madeira School.

That’s an all-girls boarding school in McLean, Va. Just about everything I knew about Madeira came either from the tabloid reports about the Tarnower murder, a crime perpetrated in March 1980 by the school’s headmistress at the time, Jean Harris, or from delivering chlorine there on my summer job throughout the early 1980s. The Madeira of my memories was a place that was far more likely to admit kids from outside the country than inside the Beltway. I always saw as many horses as students there, and it seemed like formal riding attire was standard casual wear around campus.

Brielle skipped away before I’d come up with an inoffensive way to ask how one gets from Petworth to Madeira. But the gods apparently wanted me to know the answer. The next morning, I walked into a convenience store on Georgia Avenue just as a guy inside was making an announcement: “Jack Kent Cooke got my kid into Madeira!”

The proud, smiling announcer was Will Tucker, my neighbor and Brielle’s father. And, sure enough, it turns out that from the grave, Cooke indeed steered Brielle to McLean.

Cooke died in April 1997. As called for in his will, all the money from the auction of the Redskins went to set up the charitable powerhouse known as the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. Overnight, that foundation became the biggest educational endowment in the area.

Cooke’s directive initially called for his charity to be used only to fund graduate school scholarships, but thanks to Snyder’s $800 million bid to buy the Redskins from the estate—the highest sum ever paid for a sports team by several hundred million dollars, and an amount far too large for son John Kent Cooke to pay—there was so much money that trustees expanded the group’s mission to include undergraduates and even a high school program. Students from across the country are eligible, but the foundation tries to get at least 20 percent from theD.C. market.

Cheryl Scott-Mouzon hooked up Brielle and the dead Redskins owner. Scott-Mouzon is a student adviser at the Cooke Foundation, and her job duties include taking trips to inner-city elementary and middle schools to let kids know how to take advantage of Cooke’s treasure chest.

And it was three years ago, on a recruiting visit to the Paul Public Charter School, off Missouri Avenue NW in Petworth, that she ran into Brielle. At the time, Brielle was a sixth-grader in the school’s Higher Achievement Program, an after-school regimen for intellectually gifted and motivated students. Brielle was in charge of showing around guests to the school. Her stint as a tour guide left a huge impression on Scott-Mouzon.

“When I was finished, I asked people at that school, ‘Who is that girl?’” Scott-Mouzon says.

Scott-Mouzon convinced Brielle to apply to the Cooke Foundation’s Young Scholars Program, which tries to provide kids who would otherwise go to underperforming public high schools with the guidance and, if needed, tuition to get into the best school possible. Brielle was one of only 63 students plucked out of the more than 700 applicants to be accepted into the foundation’s program. (Being a Redskins fan wasn’t a prerequisite, which is good for Brielle: “I don’t really care about them,” she says with an air only a high-school freshman can muster.)

She is the first Cooke beneficiary to enroll at Madeira, where tuition runs about $39,000 a year.

A former Sidwell Friends teacher named Lucy Madeira founded the school in 1906. It was originally located on 19th StreetNW in the Dupont Circle neighborhoodbut now sits on 376 acres high above the Potomac River.

“It’s like being in the country,”says Brielle.

Current enrollment is about 300 students, most of whom live on the campus. Alums include Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham and Brooke Astor, the New York society matron who died in August at 105 years old.

Brielle left the Madeira dorms over the weekend to stay at her family’s Petworth home, which counts among its decorations dozens of academic and cheerleading awards.

Asked about the differences in her life since she left her midtown neighborhood for the rustic burg of McLean, Brielle speaks very fondly of her days at the nearby charter school she used to attend. She says Paul’s staff, particularly the teachers in the Latin program, sent her off very prepared to take on Madeira’s academics. And she wishes that Madeira had boys and a cheer-leading squad.

But she knows the resources at Madeira are light-years away from those available to D.C. Public Schools students. Every Wednesday, as part of Madeira’s “Co-Curric” program, Brielle and all other freshmen go on mandatory outdoor excursions that include rock-climbing (not on artificial rocks, but on real ones at the cliffs of Great Falls), or hopping on one of the many horses stabled on campus, or kayaking or canoeing on the Potomac. She’s already looking forward to her junior year, when Co-Curric will arrange for her and all her mates in the class of 2011 to have Capitol Hill internships.

And she says that when science teachers at Madeira wanted to teach students about forensic pathology, they concocted a hypothetical criminal case and brought out the sorts of equipment that the folks on CSI have on hand, complete with cameras to take mug shots of the suspects. (They didn’t re-enact the Tarnower case, however: “Nobody talks about that at Madeira,” says Brielle.)

She also knows the cultural atmospheres at her new and old schools have nothing in common.

“There are people from all over the world at Madeira,” says Brielle. “My roommate’s mom’s from Colombia, her dad’s from Seattle, she just came from Illinois, but her parents live in Haiti. My friends there are from New Jersey and New York. The kids from my neighborhood school were, well, from the neighborhood.”

Her mother, Brenda White-Tucker, says she worries that Brielle’s too young to appreciate the opportunity that hard work and brains and Jack Kent Cooke’s legacy have brought her.

“I tell her I wish I’d have had the same chance,” says White-Tucker, a D.C. native and alum of Wilson Senior High School. “Not many people have this chance. I don’t know if she knows what she has, if she gets it.”

“I get it, Mom! I get it!” Brielle laughs.

And with that, it was time to get back to the Madeira campus, where Brielle and other members of the school’s Latin team were due for a dinner in their honor.