Our Partners in Philomathy

IMG_20190301_113019.jpg

By Ananya Rabeya

“Connections: Adventures in Learning” is the subject line of Head of School Sue Belcher’s weekly email to our founding families. Aptly titled, it captures many of the unique aspects of The Downtown School, including City-as-Lab. Students either leave the classroom to apply learning with local organizations, or an expert in their field visits the school to work with students on campus. In the case of Mathematics and Computational Thinking, what has been most exciting while developing the thematic curriculum is the invaluable contributions of our founding parents and guardians. Through their expertise, they have provided meaningful opportunities that made the curriculum more relevant and relatable. We have had many visitors to Math class this year, and I am constantly in awe of our parents’ and guardians’ knowledge and generosity in offering their time. Here are just a few highlights from the year:

IMG_20181219_132835.jpg
  • While discussing retirement accounts, a parent, a savvy stocks and options trader, offered to host four investing workshops with our students. He took them right into the world of live financial coverage with real-time tickers, IPOs and settlements, diversification, whisper number, candlesticks, analytics, P/E ratio, and for one class, derivatives pricing. With these workshops, students drove home a concept they were thrilled to explore through a virtual stock exchange platform (which a student proposed). There may have even been reports of students texting their parents during lunch asking which stocks to pick, hoping to keep their choices grounded in earnings growth, and their newly learned P/E ratio!

  • During Back-to-School Night, I shared that students were creating home mortgage amortization schedules and learning about home equity. The next morning, a parent had already sent me resources on redlining in Seattle. It wasn’t long before my students dove into a class-wide research and a forum discussion on the housing segregation and disparity in home equity in our communities. Another parent took it upon herself to connect me with the director of a local food bank for our upcoming exploration of the supply and demand of food in our communities.

  • We were about ready to begin the study of logistic functions and carrying capacity, when a student mentioned that a studio in the Pacific Science Center was showcasing herd immunity in action. The very next week, we visited the studio and afterwards, a student asked if I would be interested in talking to his grandma, a virologist. While George had already aligned his history curriculum to study epidemics at the same time as we were leaning BioMath, Kelsey taught the students about the differences between viruses and bacteria. Interdisciplinary learning was taking a new meaning, when I reached out to a world-renowned virologist and researcher of coronavirus. What an opportunity it has been for each of my classes to hear in person her dramatic story of the SARS epidemic!

IMG_20181107_134404.jpg

No amount of gratitude is enough to all of my partners in philomathy (whom I cannot all mention in such a short piece) , but the incredible paths that our students are carving with their help will be the heartfelt thanks that merits them. The level of this support is inspiring to say the least, and these examples showcase but a few of the many parents and guardians who have supported our work. What amazes me is the dedication and commitment that our speakers show to our students. While I am conscious of their time and already full schedules, they offer to hold multiple workshops rather than one, so that our students get the most out of these learning opportunities. It could be an encouraging tweet, or a kind note of appreciation, or a euphoric introduction during an Open House that their children are loving this curriculum and this school; but no gesture of our parents goes unnoticed.




Diversity in Action

By Brian Crawford

100Days.JPG

It is an accepted fact that a diverse learning environment enhances learning, empathy, and community. Vital to The Downtown School’s mission is that we are committed to sustaining a school in which individuals representing diverse cultures and experiences.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion represent a journey, however, not an end product. Indeed, simply having a diverse student population is not enough for students and the community to reap the benefits of diversity; the curricula must be inclusive, students and teachers must acknowledge and address implicit bias, and students’ differing life experiences must be brought to bear on their—and the community’s—learning.

All journeys begin with a starting point—a status quo that will hopefully change over the course of the journey. During our first year, the diversity of The Downtown School student population has emerged in a number of ways, both among the student body and in the curriculum:

  • Educational Diversity: Our current 43 students come from 32 different feeder schools. These include public, private, Waldorf, charter, homeschool, and alternative schools. In class and the community, this has translated to a wide variety of approaches to learning, collaboration, and projects—approaches that have brought new and valuable perspectives on concepts and skills.

  • Socio-Economic Diversity: Our students hail from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds and, therefore, difference in life experiences that inform perspectives on classroom topics and community initiatives. Currently, 7% of our students receive financial aid, a number that we will--through a growing endowment—increase in the years to come to 30%. This will allow The Downtown School to be more financially inclusive to more students and families across the socio-economic spectrum.

  • Racial and Ethnic Diversity: 30.5% of Seattle residents identify as people of color--a percentage that closely mirrors the 33% of The Downtown School students. 38% of the incoming 2019-2020 cohort also identify as people of color. This shift marks an increase in the rich variety of life experiences that students have already been able to draw upon to learn, share, and learn from.

  • LGBTQ Diversity: The teenage years are characterized by the process of building identity and understanding ourselves as whole and separate human beings. Issues of gender identity and sexual orientation are particularly fraught at this time and creating not only a safe, but also a welcoming, inclusive and celebratory environment for students of all identities is paramount. Some ways we create this space is by including texts that address non-heteronormative experiences in our classes, especially English, History and Spanish. We also interface closely with parents and guardians of students who are working through an LGBTQ identity process to make sure we are mindful as they get to the place where they can share their true selves on their own terms.

  • Religious Diversity: Over a quarter of our school community openly identify as Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish. Students’ wealth of understanding of religion has already enhanced humanities discussions on the presence of religious allusions in texts, philosophy, ethnomath, and cultural phenomena such as the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

  • Curricular Diversity: Recognizing the importance that students see their identities reflected in the curriculum, our teachers have actively sought to infuse their curricula with diverse viewpoints and alternative ways of considering topics. From analyzing works of literature from Burundi, China, England, Russia, Japan, India, Iran, the United States, Ghana, and Antigua in English class; to challenging students’ assumptions about race by learning in Science about selective evolutionary pressures; to projects in History viewing different races’ experiences of belonging to “We the People”; to understanding the math behind Seattle housing segregation, applying math to understand Arabic art and create Arabic-inspired art, to exploring ethnomath in eastern Asian art; to in-depth explorations In Spanish of the wide variety of Spanish-speaking cultures; students at The Downtown School have plunged into their journeys into the diversity that makes up our world.

We recognize that The Downtown School is just embarking on our path for creating and cultivating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community of students, teachers, and families. We are excited to continue this journey, to learn, to grow, and to question our own assumptions and implicit biases as we “instruct one another in the meaning and value of community and in the joy and importance of lifelong learning.”




The Right Fit

Choosing the right fit for high school is a hard decision. The environment in which you learn trains you to deal with conflict, it provides comfort, and it can teach you to step out of your comfort zone. A school’s size can play a big role in those factors. For me, I wanted something different from my middle school, but I would later learn that the difference I was yearning for would not be what I expected.  

Students collaborating at the Bill & Melinda Gates Discovery Center

Students collaborating at the Bill & Melinda Gates Discovery Center

All my life I have gone to only one school--a coed, PK-8 independent school with about 400 kids. This was truly my home because I was practically born there. Most of the teachers had known me since I was three. Comfort was not my problem. I can’t remember ever being the new kid or feeling like I didn’t belong. But by eighth grade, I started to grow tired of the over familiarity, and the school felt too small. So when it was time to look at high schools, my main goal was to reach as far away as I could from what my old school was like. This meant a big school with lots of new people.

During the high school admissions season, I applied to all of the core independent schools in Seattle. Ultimately I applied to only three schools, one of them being The Downtown School. When I first heard of DTS I didn’t have many thoughts because at the time the school was just ideas and a building, no students, no history. After applying I pushed it to the back of my mind and waited for the fateful date of acceptance letters. The day came and I received some good and bad news. The good: I got into The Downtown School. The bad: I was faced with choosing. “Go big or go home,” I said, by which I could either go big or go with what I have always known. Throughout the admission season I had been using my gut in picking schools since this was my first time ever choosing for myself where I wanted to go.

In February of last year, DTS held a newly admitted student night, and the minute I walked into the now-completed building I felt like this was it. I felt the energy buzzing through the room, and I knew that I needed to really take this school into account. That night, I came home and researched everything I could find out about The Downtown School. I probably memorized their whole website and any fact about the school. I was so conflicted because this school felt so right, yet it was not what I was “looking for.” I knew that I would feel comfortable in this environment, but that’s what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to feel comfortable; I wanted to be pushed out of my comfort zone. As I looked at my options I thought, Why do I need to feel uncomfortable? What would that do for me? Yes, it would cause me to change and evolve in new ways, but what if I could find change in myself but in a nurturing environment?

I made my decision and took the chance with The Downtown School. And for me, that was the best decision I have ever made. I took a different chance and decided that I could push myself by leaving my mark throughout The Downtown School’s inaugural years. This for me was more special and important then learning how to make friends out of 1,000+ kids or trying to fight for attention or help from the overly busy teachers. For me, the opportunities not every kid can say they get outweighed The Downtown School’s small size. Why spend your high school years fighting for someone to notice you and help you flourish when you can have others fighting for you and your future? That is what The Downtown School is giving me. True, it is nothing like what I was “looking for,” but it gave me what I didn’t know I needed. A love for learning, a sparkle in my eyes every day after school, a community of supportive individuals, a place where I can grow. A home. A home that I didn’t grow up in--no, a home that I am building.