Looking forward to our summer of learning

As you might have seen from some of our recent pictures, we are moving into our building and settling in. Teachers won’t officially start until Aug. 1, but we have already started planning out the summer.

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The Downtown School is part of an innovative wave in education, redefining what an excellent high school education looks like for young people today. Just like a startup, every person who works at (and attends!) the school will have a significant impact on the design and success of the institution. In hiring teachers, I looked for curious, passionate educators with curriculum design experience who are eager to take on this challenge. Part of what our team will do this summer is learning from educators who are engaged in similarly forward-thinking work.

Spanish teacher Lupe Fisch and I will be attending PBL World - a conference focused on project based learning (PBL). Lupe, an experienced PBL practitioner, will be working with other expert teachers on designing, assessing, and managing PBL projects; I’ll be attending the leadership academy where I’ll work with other administrators on implementing and supporting PBL at an institutional level. At the same time, other teachers will be at the coLearn Conference at Winchester Thurston School, whose City as Our Campus program is an inspiration for our approach using the city of Seattle as a lab. Our teachers will be working alongside educators, administrators, and community partners from around the country, learning best practices, program implementation models, and methods of measuring impact.

Finally, all six of us - Ananya, Brian, George, Kelsey, Lupe, and I - will come together on Bainbridge Island in July for the Learning Design Summit organized by Global Online Academy (GOA). I’ve been working with colleagues at GOA for years, and their engagement with a variety of innovative schools keeps them on the cutting edge of educational best practices. Their annual summit draws educators from around the world for four days of talking about designing curriculum and learning experiences for students. The theme of the summit this year is particularly appropriate for us: Modern Learners, Modern Schools. What do they say are the elements of modern learning? Promoting student agency. Reimagining space and time (like our schedule!). Fostering new ways of assessment that promote learning. Cultivating a love of learning. And allowing learners to explore their interests and passions.

Reading that list, talking with our teachers, and reflecting on the vision of The Downtown School, I know we are on the right path. I can’t wait for all of our teachers to get here this summer!

Introducing George Heinrichs, our history and social science teacher!

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Hello! My name is George Heinrichs and I cannot wait for the school year to start this fall. I will be teaching history and I could not think of a better location in which to teach than a city. History is the study of people and the decisions they make, and these decisions are reflected in how cities are built and in how they change. We will get to use the city as a learning lab, and the students will get to both learn from the city and about Seattle itself. That dynamic is thrilling, and as many ideas as I have, I know the students will be inspired to follow their own passions and ask questions that we cannot begin to imagine. We will be at the center of Seattle and will have the opportunity to contribute to what the city can look like. The opening intensive course of sophomore year is all about asking what it means to live with oneself and with other people.

 

Introducing Spanish teacher Lupe Fisch!

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Hello! My name is Lupe Fisch and I’m so excited to be teaching at The Downtown School next year. Here’s two big reasons why.

From a professional perspective, I relish the challenge of working closely with collaborative colleagues to create a truly interdisciplinary curriculum - one that allows students to delve deeply and meaningfully into everything they learn. As a naturally interdisciplinary person myself (I’ve taught in both STEM and the humanities), I understand that the complexity that comes from looking at a topic through different lenses is extremely satisfying. I love the idea of learning from my fellow teachers and from my students.

The second reason I’m excited is that working with teenagers is a wonderful experience. I believe that adolescence is the best stage in the human lifecycle; it is a time when we have infectious energy, passion for learning, and when we’re discovering and, in many ways, creating who we will be as adults. For this reason, I have always found it to be a profound privilege to work with adolescents. The prospect of creating a cozy learning community with this particular set of young adults is very energizing!

Introducing Ananya Rabeya, our math and computational thinking teacher!

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Hi everyone - my name is Ananya Rabeya and I’m so pleased to have the opportunity to share a little about myself.

Teaching is my second love. I discovered this when I was 18. I was completely awed by hundreds of my students - each of them unique in their abilities, full of ideas and potential. The feeling I got from teaching was almost addictive.

But the first time I fell in love was when I was 11. I had just completed a geometry proof of why a straight line is the shortest distance between any two points in the Euclidean universe. And my teacher looked at me as though I was a magician. That look was all it took for me to be hooked on mathematical thinking. My teacher’s positive reinforcement was etched in my heart; it is why I became a teacher myself.

I cannot wait for that kind of magic to happen at The Downtown School. I cannot wait to get to know the students, to share this amazing learning space with them, and to watch as they become the pioneer student leaders who will transform it.

Introducing English teacher Brian Crawford!

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Hi - I’m Brian Crawford and I am thrilled to join The Downtown School’s team! With its strategic, downtown location, the school offers a prime environment for making theoretical learning in the classroom more practical. Within the framework of the English curriculum, I am eager to partner with local organizations so that students can explore and discover first-hand how language and storytelling inform every facet of human interaction, including psychology, marketing, journalism, government, park design, theater production, publishing, and music. Because we will be a small faculty, cross-curricular collaboration will be both highly efficient and integral to our exploration of English. I am so excited to offer learning experiences that reinforce what students are doing in other classes and in their own lives.

Several guiding principles inform my approach to teaching English, and I look forward to bringing these to The Downtown School.

First, I want students to understand that literature is, first and foremost, an experiment in understanding humanity. According to literary theorist Roland Barthes, “Literature is the question minus the answer.” Stories—in all their forms—are fundamentally about humans figuring out how to face challenges and grow from them. I am hoping, therefore, that our students will be able to use literature as a mirror to better understand their own challenges and experience of being human.

Second, I want students to see literature as a window into other ways of thinking, living, and negotiating life. Stories are meant to take us out of ourselves and become someone else for a while, before returning to reality. Hopefully, doing so will allow students to gain perspective on our world’s diversity, and thereby get a sharper perspective on their own lives.

Finally, our English classes will focus on how language creates meaning. On the one hand, we will explore how meaning forms in our mind when we read texts or listen to others. On the other, we will test out creating meaning through writing and speaking. I am excited for students to understand the power of words to effect change in the world, and the power of stories to connect us to others.

Working at The Downtown School promises to be a great adventure—one that I am thrilled to embark on along with my students and colleagues!

Introducing science teacher Kelsey Van Dalfsen!

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Hello! I’m Kelsey Van Dalfsen and I’m excited to share a couple of the reasons why I am really looking forward to teaching science at The Downtown School.

First, I was really attracted by the size and model of The Downtown School. My favorite learning experience was as a college student in a small department, where I had the same professors for multiple classes over my four years. The connections I developed with these teachers solidified my interest in science, but also provided me with lifelong mentors and now friends.

When I started thinking about where I wanted to teach, I knew I had to be somewhere where I’d get to develop these types of relationships with my students – getting to know them as scientific thinkers, and as people, over their high school careers and beyond. When I read about The Downtown School, I knew it would be perfect for this reason. I’m really excited to get to know all of the students in this way as we learn about some of my very favorite things to think about.

I also found the vision for interaction with the Seattle scientific community really appealing. This is because science is really about asking questions and developing ways to answer them. Not only is it critical for us to ask our own questions but also to interact with people who are actively doing this in a real way. I’m excited to use my scientific network to develop collaborations between science classes at The Downtown School and people actively asking and answering meaningful questions in our own neighborhood and city.

A month of milestones

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February held several important milestones for The Downtown School. We hired our first four teachers: English teacher Brian Crawford, math and computational thinking teacher Ananya Rabeya, science teacher Kelsey Van Dalfsen, and Spanish teacher Lupe Fisch. I am thrilled to welcome them to the team: They are inspirational teachers that I know our students will connect with. You can find bios and other fun information about each of the teachers on the Our Team page.

Then toward the end of the month, construction on our building finished! Our contractors from Kirtley Cole and architects from PUBLIC47 did an amazing job; each space in the building feels warm and inviting, blending historic and modern touches. And out of almost every window, there are views of the Space Needle, Key Arena, or the arches of the Pacific Science Center.

Most importantly, we accepted members of our founding classes of 2021 and 2022. These students are curious, talented, and fun. So many amazing students applied to the school, and our admissions committee reviewed each applicant’s files closely and had a series of thoughtful conversations about assembling the two grades. Letters were sent to families on Feb. 22, and we were thrilled to see so many people at the accepted students event on Feb. 27. Students and their families had a ton of questions for our new teachers, and the energy in the room was palpable, as students met their teachers and potential classmates.

More milestones are coming up in March: hiring a history teacher, a student support faculty member, and an administrative support staff member; installing furniture and starting to settle in to the building; and speaking about our work at the annual conference of the National Association of Independent Schools. Also, we want you to know that we are still accepting applications for the 2018-2019 school year. We will consider applications on a rolling basis in the spring and summer dependent on space within a class.

Stay tuned for blogs from our teachers!

What you’ll see on a hard-hat tour

I had a great time leading hard-hat tours last Sunday! It was wonderful to meet so many curious and enthusiastic families. We have one more day of hard-hat tours scheduled on Sunday, Jan. 28, with afternoon tours starting at 1:30 (currently full), 2, 2:30, 3, and 3:30 p.m.

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It’s a fun time to see the building because construction is moving so quickly. Our team just finished painting the upstairs of the building and installing a new HVAC system, and they are currently working on the biochemistry lab.Carpet will be arriving later this month, and installed shortly after our tour on Jan. 28. As I shared recently in a tweet, during the renovation of the ground-floor Commons, the drop ceiling tiles were removed to reveal gorgeous woodwork on lofty ceilings. The combination of historic architecture with modern furniture and technologies will make the building feel special.

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Toward the end of one of the tours, a parent told me, “Now that my student has seen the space, they can really picture themselves here!” That was great to hear.

If you haven’t already, sign up for a tour spot through Ravenna so you can see the space for yourself. As you can see from these pictures, hard hats are provided! And sign up for our newsletter for more information about the building, The Downtown School’s academic program, and admissions.

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How advisors support student success

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I recently wrote about how The Downtown School incorporates current research in adolescent development and best practices in education. One way we do that is through cultivating a climate of care. Challenge Success, a nonprofit associated with Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, shares that a climate of care helps students find success – at school and within the classrooms – by ensuring that students feel that they belong or fit in, and that they have supportive connections with others. Our goal is for our students to have a strong, supportive relationship with adults in the community – a factor shown to predispose children to positive outcomes in the face of adversity.

Similar to Lakeside School, one way that The Downtown School will support students is through an advisory program. Every student at The Downtown School will be part of an advisory group of 12 to 15 students, with an adult advisor who is that student’s advocate and mentor throughout their time at the school. Advisory is a place where students can build and nurture connections with peers and a trusted adult who will be with them through graduation. Advisors will work with students on goal setting, time management, and social/emotional learning. They’ll also have individual conferences with students when grades and comments are posted.  

Advisors will also work with students on big-picture stuff, including helping them discover and explore their passions and find a sense of purpose. They’ll help students understand what types of learning experiences most often result in what positive psychology refers to as “flow.” These are activities when the student is completely and joyfully absorbed in their work – truly energized focus – to the point that they may even lose track of time. With this knowledge of themselves, students will work with their advisor to design a meaningful internship experience.   

We’re hiring!

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We’ve reached a milestone: The Downtown School is launching our search for teachers!

We’ll be hiring five educators, who will focus on teaching English, history, math, Spanish, and science. Learn more about the positions on our careers webpage

In hiring teachers, we’re looking for people who bring a lot to the table: deep content knowledge in their subject area, a passion for teaching high school students, experience in curriculum design, and a collaborative approach to leadership. We are also looking for a diverse group of individuals who bring a variety of perspectives to the classroom. In today’s rapidly changing and interconnected world, it is critical to provide students with role models who represent a broad range of backgrounds and human experiences. 

As educators – as people who live in the world! – we know that diversity is necessary to achieving educational excellence. Students’ learning is enriched by the diversity of their teachers and their fellow students. 

Like Lakeside School’s mission, the mission of The Downtown School articulates a commitment to being a place where “individuals representing diverse cultures and experiences instruct one another in the meaning and value of community.” A wealth of research shows that students perform better academically when they feel able to fully be themselves and when they have a strong sense of self. We want our school to be a place where students and adults can bring all aspects of their identity to school. Because that’s where deep and meaningful learning takes place. 

If you are or know of an educator who might be a great fit for The Downtown School, please check out our careers page. I’m looking forward to putting together the founding team of teachers – this is an exciting time for our school! 

Interviewing for The Downtown School

With the admissions season fully underway, one of my favorite parts of the week is meeting with students and their parents and guardians during the interview portion of the application process. The interview helps me get a fuller understanding of a student and their passions and interests, and it helps the student and their family learn more about our approach and have their questions answered in a personal conversation.

Interviews take place at the KEXP Gathering Space - right around the corner from The Downtown School (which is currently under construction). The student and I spend 20 minutes in an informal conversation, then invite parents and guardians to join us so that everyone can have their questions answered. There’s no need to prepare anything in advance, and it’s fine to dress casually. I’ll come and meet you at the designated time.

Interviews are scheduled online within Ravenna, the online application system - now is a great time to schedule an interview slot! You can learn more about interviews and the application process for The Downtown School on our admissions page.

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Inspired by research and best practices

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Last week was an exciting one: We debuted a whole host of new content on our website including detailed information about the academic program at The Downtown School! If you haven’t seen it already, you can find it on our academic overview webpage. There is also grade-specific information, for grades 9, 10, 11, and 12.

In developing The Downtown School’s schedule and curriculum, I worked with a team of Lakeside faculty. From decisions about the start time to number of classes in the day, and the nature of assessments to using the city as a lab, we looked to current research in adolescent development and best practices in education. One of our inspirations is Challenge Success, a nonprofit associated with Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education. Challenge Success partners with schools and families to provide kids with the academic, social, and emotional skills needed to succeed now and in the future.  

Dr. Denise Pope, cofounder of Challenge Success, recently ran a professional development workshop with faculty and staff at Lakeside School. It was truly affirming to see just how many aspects of The Downtown School are in alignment with her work.

A framework that Challenge Success uses for supporting healthy school design is the acronym SPACE

S = Students Schedule and Use of Time

P = Project and Problem Based Learning

A = Alternative and Authentic Assessment

C = Climate of Care

E = Education (students/faculty/staff/parents/guardians)

Over the course of the new few months, I’ll share more in-depth information how The Downtown School incorporates each of these into our academic program.   I hope that you continue to follow the journey!

If you interested in learning more about Challenge Success and the SPACE framework, check out their website.

 

Accepting applications Sept. 8, 2017

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On Friday, Sept. 8, The Downtown School’s online application will go live on Ravenna, our application management system. Through Ravenna, families can manage their applications online, complete family forms, sign up for interviews and hard-hat tours, and request teacher evaluations and transcripts. Watch this website for more information about admissions!

Things I love within walking distance of The Downtown School

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The lease for The Downtown School started yesterday and I couldn't be more excited about our location near The Seattle Center. Here are a few things that I love within walking distance of the school:

A sneak peek at The Downtown School's 9th-grade theme

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I recently had the opportunity to spend a week with fifty independent school leaders as part of the NAIS Fellowship for Aspiring School Heads. During the week, our cohort worked with a highly-respected group of current heads, learning about many aspects of leading an independent school.

One of my key takeaways was the importance of identity development. For a person to do their best work, they must feel able to be their authentic self; the unique aspects of a person's identity are strengths they bring to their work. This is true for students, teachers, and heads of school.

This was particularly exciting to me, because identity development plays an important role in The Downtown School's grade-level themes. Each year, students will have a theme that will be woven into all curricular content. The school year will start with a three-week interdisciplinary intensive class related the theme. Here's the themes:

Grade 9 – Identity and Learning
Grade 10 – Networks and Complexity
Grade 11 – Leadership and Decision-Making
Grade 12 – Change: Creation and Navigation

Here's a sneak peek of how 9th graders will explore the theme of Identity and Learning through a variety of disciplinary lenses, asking questions like: Who am I? What aspects create an identity? How do others see me, and does my identity affect the world around me?

Students will start the year with a three-week intensive, How Do I Learn?, during which they'll examine the latest research about how our brains work, with a special emphasis on the adolescent brain. They will explore current theories in disciplines such as neuroscience and psychology while working with citywide partners to gain a broad view of learning. They'll explore questions like:

  • What does it mean to learn?
  • How does learning differ from person to person?
  • What are some common myths about the brain and learning?
  • How do I learn, and how does the way I learn change?
  • What do you do when you encounter something challenging, that is not easy to learn?

At the end of the intensive, students will shift their focus to themselves as learners, starting a learning portfolio that they will use and expand upon throughout the next four years. They'll also move into their first semester with some shared core concepts, including a basic understanding of the neuroscience of learning; connections between learning, thinking, memory, and problem-solving; and the necessary role of failure in learning.

Students will continue to investigate Identity and Learning throughout the year. They will read and write about identity through "coming of age" stories in their English class. In World History, they'll study how the definition of citizenship has evolved over time. They learn Spanish through a focus on what defines them at this moment in time, including family, friendships, school life, and youth culture. Biology and math will continue the focus on learning and identity by developing students' capacity to see themselves as scientists and mathematicians.

Finally, an end-of-year intensive on wellness will invite students to continue learning about themselves in terms of physical, personal, and social development.

We're currently putting the finishing touches on our curriculum guide, which we'll share when our website launches next month. Stay tuned! And keep in touch with The Downtown School on our new Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Blending tradition and innovation

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The Downtown School officially has a home and I couldn't be more excited! The historic 16,000-square-foot building on the corner of Warren Avenue and John Street has large, light-filled classrooms, a big multipurpose area that will become our "commons," and lots of flexible spaces for both collaboration and quiet work. And the building is located next to Seattle Center – an area of the city with a special history and importance in our region.

The building and location embody an aspect of what makes The Downtown School special: They blend tradition and innovation.

In The Downtown School's academic program, that blend is seen in classes in traditional core content areas (English, history, math/computational thinking, science, and Spanish) and interdisciplinary courses that blend art, history, science, philosophy, psychology, and religion. Students will have shorter in-class days and an extended school year – and they'll be using the city itself as classroom, both with their teachers and in internships.

The updated building will also balance tradition and innovation: The 1920s-era school will have a modern, open-concept co-working space on the ground floor where teachers and students can collaborate. We're keeping many of the historic architectural details that make the building feel special while adding a brand new biology/chemistry lab and physics/engineering classroom.

Seattle Center itself – one of the city's most treasured assets – is exploring this balance between history and innovation. Last fall, the Seattle Center: What's Next event brought together a diverse group of leaders to envision the center's future in a Seattle that is a global hub for innovation, technology, and creativity. Not to mention the changes coming to Key Arena – which I can see looking out the windows of The Downtown School!

Stay tuned for more updates!

Announcing the name and location of the micro-school!

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We are excited to announce two major milestones in establishing a Lakeside affiliated micro-school: the location and name of the new school.

The Downtown School: A Lakeside School will be located next to Seattle Center in a historic school building updated to serve as a dynamic space for learning.

The building is 16,000 square feet and located on Warren Avenue North off John Street, two blocks from Pacific Science Center. The space includes seven large classrooms, a sizable multipurpose commons area, and flexible spaces for collaboration and quiet work.

"We are thrilled to find a building that meets both our programmatic needs and is financially a great deal," said Sue Belcher, The Downtown School's head of school. "I think students and faculty will love the big, light-filled classrooms, and the proximity to Seattle Center and downtown will make it easy to use the city itself as a classroom – an aspect of this school that I think will be particularly exciting to students."

In finding a home for the new school, the team evaluated multiple aspects of properties, including building quality; accessibility to students and families (including public transportation); community resources; accessibility to partners; and the cost of real estate and renovations. The Seattle Center-area site scored high in each category.

With the lease signed, Lakeside will now move ahead with plans to update the space to be ready to open in fall 2018. The school is working with Public47 Architects, lead architects Kevin Tabari, AIA, and Jeff Boone, AIA, LEEP AP.

 

Additional facts about The Downtown School

  • This new high school aims to provide a more affordable independent school option for academically talented students.
  • It will preserve the fundamental components of Lakeside School: a high-quality academic education, meaningful student-faculty relationships, and a diverse body of students and adults.
  • With full enrollment, The Downtown School will serve 160 students in grades 9-12.
  • Tuition will be set at approximately $17,000 per year (Lakeside School's 2017-2018 tuition is $33,280).
  • The curriculum will combine some of the best aspects of Lakeside School's high-quality academic program with special programs and features that are unique to the new school.
  • The school will be separate from but affiliated with Lakeside, with a different educational model, admissions process, student-life program, and cost.
  • The Downtown School will begin accepting applications this fall for students entering 9th and 10th grade in the 2018-2019 school year. The online application will be available in Ravenna in September 2017.