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.

Where Will Maps Take You?

By George Heinrichs

When you picture Seattle, Washington, the world, what do you see? Is it a road map? Is it a satellite image? We live in the age of maps (one of the pleasures of being a historian is getting to label periods of time as “the age of blank”), and our phones give us all constant access to all the maps we could ever need--maps of the 10 closest coffee shops, maps made by algorithms specifically for us. The word “map” comes from the Latin mappa mundi, which translates to “sheet of the world.” It came into popular parlance in the 16th century with the rise of maps to represent European expeditions that both traveled and documented coastlines not previously know to Western Europeans. Maps allow us to see the world and understand it in all new ways. Maps can also be divisive, creating divisions in our minds where before we saw unmarked land. Philip II of Macedonia is credited with saying “divide and conquer,” but Lear put it best when he said “Give me the map there. Know that we have divided” (KL I.i.37). From the Treaty of Tordesillas to the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the drawing of a line can led to centuries of pain.

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Over the past few weeks the 9th graders have been reflecting on maps and considering how a map can shape identity. We talked about areas with border disputes such as in Kashmir, where a contested border between India and Pakistan almost led to war and has led to many deaths. They studied the Inter Caetera, which in 1493 split the non-Christian world between Spain and Portugal, and which led to the Americas being predominantly Spanish-speaking save for the small portion given to Portugal (which became Brazil--a line on a map can rarely stop a land grab, though it can cause one). Now they are creating maps of their own: some that show the distribution of meat-eaters worldwide, others look at how relationships between countries have changed over time, and others look at how different countries have invested in infrastructure. These are maps that are not meant to divide, but to explore complexity. For that is what maps call upon us to do: explore the world around us, and give us a hand in seeing all the complexities and features that we might otherwise have overlooked.

Ask your student for their map and then see where it takes you both.

The Path for a Future Politician

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By Isabel A., Class of ‘22

Admit it, most of us have had dreams of being a politician. Getting to play a part in laws, the very rules that hold society together and shape our daily lives. Luckily, for those of who wish to see into the inner workings at our state capital, the Washington State Page Program offers an amazing opportunity to see firsthand the lives of our Washington State Legislators. In the Page Program, you get the chance to work on either the House or Senate side as a page. You also receive a more in-depth view of the bill passing process.

I was very fortunate to be sponsored by Representative Gael Tarleton to be a House Page in the first week in the legislative period. Although a large part of my week did consist of running up and down the stairs (the workout you get from this program is pretty insane) or fetching Representative Berquist his morning grapefruit, this program opened my eyes in many ways other than the immense amount of stairs in the Capitol Building. One thing that I found surprising is the peaceful way the two parties interact. If I were to have guessed solely from the media the way their interactions would feel, polite and pleasant may not be the words that came to mind. The representatives all eat together, make polite conversation, and maintain good relationships between each other, which I also learned is really important in the process of passing a bill. It’s important that the parties remain on good terms in order to pass any legislation.  

Not only can this apply to bill writing and creating laws for Washington, but I saw this as a tool I could apply to my life at The Downtown School. An important aspect of keeping the peace or convincing others of your point of view is to keeps things calm and try to compromise. This rule can apply to everyday interactions in the Commons to kind-of-stressful group projects for English class. Although the Page Program is great for training future politicians, it is also great for conditioning us for interactions in our daily life.