Designing our Future

By Sue Belcher, Head of School


I recently attended the National Association of Independent Schools annual conference. For me this is a time to recharge. It inspires me to stay on top of current trends in education, learn from peer schools around the country, and reconnect with old friends and colleagues. This year the theme was Reimagine Independent Schools: Tearing Down Walls, Building Capacity, and Designing Our Future.

As I reflect on The Downtown School, I believe that we are on the cutting edge in all three of these arenas. Here are ways that we are leading the charge on rethinking school:

Tearing Down Walls:

  • Traditionally, there has been a strong divide between public and private schools, but we have so much we can learn from each other! Recently, we teamed up with Center School students for an IGNITE field trip, demonstrating along the way that public and private can play.

  • We have an open campus at lunch. Even if students pack their lunch, they often head to a local food court to eat with their friends.

  • We use the City as a Lab for learning, and try to get students out of the walls of a traditional classroom at least once per week.

Building Capacity:

  • In order to empower our students to be able to navigate the future with confidence, we work across the curriculum to build capacity in five core competencies: learning how to learn, thinking critically, thinking creatively, communicating effectively and collaborating. We don’t know what jobs will look like in ten years, but we do know that these skills will remain relevant.

  • One of the biggest challenges for students as they transition to college is navigating unstructured time. This can be a huge source of stress and anxiety. Research shows that our brains need “down time” to develop higher level thinking skills such as creative thinking, problem solving, persistence, planning, and communication. Our schedule, which was designed for student health and wellness, offers the opportunity to deepen these skills in high school. It allows for downtime, playtime, and family time.

Designing our Future:

  • Our internship program, which will launch with juniors next year, will give students the opportunity to add to the global body of knowledge in a unique way.

  • In our founding year at The Downtown School, we’ve done a great job of creating community partnerships. Our work moving forward will be to develop long-term, meaningful relationships with local nonprofits and businesses. In doing so, we hope to co-create projects in where students design solutions for real problems.