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.  

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.


Students collaborating at the Bill & Melinda Gates Discovery Center

Students collaborating at the Bill & Melinda Gates Discovery Center

Designing our Future

By Sue Belcher, Head of School

5243B947-CCE8-43D7-91F6-26AD62F6A9E9.JPG

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.

20180920_LakesideDowntown092018_088 - Copy.jpg

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

Isabel (1).jpg

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.

Being a Student Again

By Will, a current parent

IMG_1538.JPG

I often envy our kids for the knowledge and wisdom available to them. They would be quick to point out that I am not referring to their parents’ knowledge and wisdom. I am talking about the teachers at The Downtown School. I joined the inaugural Downtown School parent book club the other day. Yes…one more inaugural, founding, pioneering experience.

But that is what makes the school unique. Like our kids, we can try things and explore different approaches, make the old things new and interesting.

If you are like us, our conversations with our freshman son are like interpreting emojis – often monosyllabic, consistently leaving us feeling like we are learning a new English dialect and virtually always scratching our heads. It was in this spirit I was happy to hear there would be a parent book club and we would be reading and discussing the books our kids were reading.

I was interested in this--both because it would give us a way to engage the thoughts under our son’s hair, and also because I am envious.  Our kids are getting to learn interesting subjects with amazing teachers -- As adults we rarely get to be students and just enjoy the beauty of learning for its own sake. The book club met both of my goals.

For the ground-breaking book club, we were “assigned” Small Country , by Gaël Faye. It tells the story of a boy on the edge of becoming a teenager as his country, Burundi, careens into civil war. English teacher Brian Crawford facilitated the conversation with a handful of us parents. And for a couple brief hours it felt like being a student again. The conversation flowed easily from subjects like the nuances of literature and language, cultural healing after the Rwandan genocide, to engaging young people in complicated topics. It offered not only an insight into The Downtown School pedagogy, but also offered an opening to a new way of engaging our son in conversation.

As with any startup, some things will stick, and others will get cast aside. My hope is that the book club becomes an opening that offers us parents an opportunity to learn from the knowledge and wisdom of our kids’ teachers. And maybe, just maybe, our kids will come to the awareness that we, their parents, have ideas about topics beyond where they left their shoes. 

Virtual School: Kid Tested, Teacher Approved

By Lupe Fisch

The recent Snowmageddon (I can hear Mid-Westerners’ mocking laughter) gave The Downtown School an exciting opportunity to flex our beta muscles. With the first two snow days, it occurred to us that keeping students safely at home and continuing their learning didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. Thinking about the joy that snow days inspire(especially in a city that rarely gets them), we wanted to balance learning expectations with play and family time.

Of the six days of closure we ended up having, we asked students to do some focused work for two of them; and thus was born the virtual school day. For the first one, each teacher created approximately 30 minutes of work for each class; and students were asked to do that work between 9 a.m. and noon. Teachers stayed connected and were able to field questions through email and Google Hangouts. The second virtual school day was a little more relaxed, with required work in one or two classes and optional work in the rest.

20181018_LakesideDowntownScienceLab_091.jpg

The initial results are heartening. About half of all students participated in both, and only a handful experienced technical difficulties. The feedback we solicited from students gave us some food for thought for the next round. At the top of what students enjoyed about these days was the opportunity to learn from the comfort of home, including staying in PJs, listening to music while they worked, and having snacks within easy reach. They also appreciated the self-paced nature of the work, the opportunity to be a little productive during a day off and being able to communicate readily with teachers . As we refine this model, our areas for growth as teachers  include making the required work more easily accessible and clear, including more flexibility in the time students are required to work; and having a streamlined and consistent protocol for getting teacher help.

Online teaching is a different beast than the brick-and-mortar classroom, and we welcome the opportunity to refine our skills in this area. We are lucky to have students that see themselves as our partners in this endeavor.

Stay warm!



The Bright Side of Shadows

By Nativ B., Class of ‘22

As admission season rolled around for the 2019-2020 school year at The Downtown School, we had a lot of work to do.

As this is our first year of operation, we were in an unusual position. We had to convince applying students that our school worked. We had to convince them that are school was just as good if not better than all the other private school. And we had to do with three months of experience and forty-five kids.

I had always been under the impression that our best bet would be to have shadow days. And after some discussion and planning, two weeks before winter break we started hosting our first shadow students. Since then, I personally have hosted five students.

You may ask why? Sure, it is a lot of fun to host, but there is also something tiring about hosting. If you have an in-class work period, you will need to make the student feel welcome while also working; if you have a test, you will find another class for the student (who wants to sit through a test?); and, of course, there is always that moment at the Armory when you look up from your pizza, thinking your guest might be lost, when actually you find that your shadow student has taken it upon themselves to walk to the other side of the armory and buy a bubble tea. Phew!

So what causes students at The Downtown School to host multiple shadows in one week? Well, I think that it’s because we care about this school so much and want to see it thrive. We are the founding class, and we want to ensure strong future cohorts. There is something truly special about being able to share the work that we and so many others have put in to making this school such a special place. That’s why it always makes me smile when I see a shadow raise their hand in class, or laugh at one of Brian's bad jokes. At the end of the day, I don’t get to decide where these students will go to high school, but it’s my hope that come admission season next year many of them will be hosting prospective incoming students and telling them about how great The Downtown School is.

20181018_LakesideDowntownScienceLab_484.jpg

A Matrix of Learning

By Brian Crawford

When was the last time you saw an English class depicted in a movie or on TV? The ones I can think of all feature pretty much the same scene: bored-looking students either listening to a teacher read from some book, or listening to another student trudge their way through Hamlet or A Separate Peace (I’m not counting Dead Poets’ Society here, as I do believe Mr. Keating did a better job--at least in the classroom--of getting his students to think for themselves).

While reading aloud or discussing what a book “means” does have a place in the English classroom, I have always believed that learning best occurs: 1) in a project-based way; 2) in a way that challenges students to think not just linguistically and verbally, but also visually, spatially, kinesthetically, musically, and mathematically; and 3) in a way in which students have a choice of which projects they choose.

Recently, 9th graders read two graphic novels, American Born Chinese and Persepolis. Both of these fit into our exploration of identity and coming-of-age that we began with short stories and a novella. To support this unit, we welcomed professional children’s book illustrator Ellie Peterson to lead a workshop focusing on how illustrations support story.

But rather than culminate the unit with an exam or an essay, students chose seven projects to complete in a group. They chose the projects from a matrix derived from the intersection of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and Bloom’s Taxonomy--two teacher codes that basically mean the projects had to both increase in complexity, and they had to each be expressed differently: as art, as a debate, as a role-play, as code, as recipes, as Lego structures, as dolls, as chord progressions, or as raps. To name a few.

IMG_1151.jpg

The students then presented their work to the entire school community as a gallery walk. Their goal was to teach other students--even the sophomores, most of whom have not read these books--concepts that both revealed a multilayered understanding of the books, all the while giving the audience a new insight into different modes of expression.

While the students’ engagement in the projects was focused and energetic, and while the entire school was engaged in the gallery walk, I was truly impressed when I assessed the work. For in looking at the variety of projects, I saw levels of understanding that surpassed my expectations. Not only had students grasped the main themes of both works, but they demonstrated a firm grasp of Iranian culture, Chinese literary archetypes, illustration, storytelling, poetry, and music.

In a word: I was blown away. And I was so motivated by the possibilities that lie before us, as well as our students’ abilities to think creatively and critically, collaborate, learn how to learn, and communicate effectively as 21st-century problem-solvers.



Saplings That Touch the Sky

DSC08155.JPG

By Ananya Rabeya

We took our four-year-old niece to the Muir Woods a few summers ago. It’s a forest of redwoods and sequoias in California. Seeing my niece wonder at the sizes of the trunks and the heights of the trees, I asked her if she would like to know the forest’s secret; a wisdom that someone had shared with me once. You see, some sequoias and redwoods are thousands of years old. But interestingly, these trees that are about 350 feet tall have roots that grow only about ten feet deep.

So, without deep roots, how do they keep standing for centuries enduring some of nature’s worst disasters?

My niece looked intently at me.

That day, I told her that the roots do not reach deep; they reach outward, seeking the roots of other redwoods, intertwining, making permanent bonds with each other when they meet. This way, all the redwoods in the forest either directly or indirectly support each other. They reach out and care for each other, sharing nutrients to hold each other up. From the Muir Woods, nature gives us this precious lesson that our true strength is in our willingness to care for and support each other.

At The Downtown School, we consider service learning through the lens of social justice-- the principle that all individuals are entitled to fair and impartial treatment as well as equity and equal opportunity. With its many parts, social justice includes:

-The right to the things required for human decency and dignity

-The pursuit of justice and peace

-Care for the weakest.

Among my favorite maxims of John Dewey is this observation: “When we reflect upon an experience instead of just having it, we inevitably distinguish between our own attitude and the objects toward which we sustain the attitude.”

It’s not just service, but the perpetual re-evaluation of our way of thinking as our hypotheses--and our beliefs--shift; our students’ journal prompts after every service opportunity, and their senior year capstone projects are, hence, crucial to that exercise. Reflecting upon an experience may bring closure to, but it also opens up the possibility of critical inquiry of one’s own assumptions, change, and ultimately growth. This is precisely the hope for our saplings that have understood this simple universal principle that in giving, in fact we receive.

The Many Faces

MareSmiles2.jpg

By Marit W., class of ‘22

It was November, and The Downtown School was this really scary thing—a new school in the middle of the city with fancy architectural renderings and an impossibly articulate head of school. I’d applied and gotten in, but it hadn’t gotten any easier.

I’d spent that February, chewing my nails. I’d always been in public schools with more students than square footage, where I’d gotten used to flailing legs and over-large binders. The Downtown School was terrifying compared to my public high school. It was small and new and shiny and different.

My middle school was this familiar place with its chipped bricks and irritable staff. The thing about it was that I wasn’t happy. I loved school, sure, loved the teachers I’d spent years talking with, but the wear and tear of ducking my head was something that I could’ve gone without.

I left the familiarity of my friends and all the walls that I could’ve mapped out and filled with faces for this school. Our head of school had all the goals lined out, hard hat tours lined up, interviews at the nearest hipster coffee shop carried out, all shiny and efficient. I was still scared, then. Scared that I’d left everything I knew on the off chance this school’d offer me a chance to nerd out and find some sort of family, I guess.

September came, and everyone was stiff with new-school jitters. By the end of September, the jitters fell away, mine included. I’d found some friends who I still eat lunch with now, still fall into stitches laughing with now. The funny thing about having forty-four kids in a school is that everything happens quickly. One person, one little group, could do something, and it’d affect everyone.

Familiarity spread like a wave through these kids and these teachers. Things didn’t seem so new and shiny. The giant bean-bags are broken in, smiles broken in.

It’s been three months. Three and I feel like I know these people more than I knew the smudge of faces I’d spent eight years with.

The Downtown School is a little shiny and new, sure, but I’m so glad I chose it. I can draw a map of our little school, maybe sketch one of Seattle Center too, and fill it with faces of people I get to know better every day.

Tips for a Successful Application

20180920_LakesideDowntown092018_112.jpg


By Kelsey van Dalfsen, Ph.D.

So you visited our table at a PSIS Independent School Fair and you attended an Open House. Now what? If you think The Downtown School might be a good fit for high school, it’s time to complete your application! We’ve compiled the following list of tips to help you prepare a strong application for admission to The Downtown School:

1) Start now!

All components of the application are due by January 15, 2019. In addition to the forms that students and parents/guardians complete, you will need teacher evaluations, school records, and an administrator form. Plan ahead to ensure that the teachers and administrators you ask to complete these pieces have time to get them in prior to the deadline. Register to take the SSAT or ISEE before the end of January to ensure consideration of your application. And last but not least, make sure you’ve scheduled an interview with a member of our admissions team! You may complete your interview before the rest of your application is complete; so if you haven’t already, schedule an interview today.

2) Ask questions.

We are looking for students who would be a good mutual fit at The Downtown School. This means that you are right for us and we are right for you. Your interview is an informal conversation and is a great time to ask the questions you have about The Downtown School. Still have questions? Email us!

3) Show us your full self.

We’re small by design. This means that every member of our school has a significant impact on The Downtown School community. We want you to do more than come with a solid academic foundation—we want you to bring your passions, your hobbies, your strengths, and your opportunities for growth to enrich the school community. Let these elements shine in your application by carefully selecting teachers that really know you to complete the teacher evaluations and by making sure your student essay reflects you as a whole person—including your interests, quirks, and unique personality!

Admissions season is in full swing, and we are thrilled by the excitement so many prospective families have shown for The Downtown School. As you complete your application, please reach out to us at admissions@downtownschoolseattle.org with any questions about the school or the admissions process. We can’t wait to read your application!


Better Than We Had Hoped

By Sage, class of ‘21

BW DJ.jpg

It was just another Wednesday assembly when Brian mentioned the opportunity to be a DJ for our school’s first dance.

My first reaction was “cool, that’s something I’d be interested in doing.” However, when Brian explained the time commitment, I worried that it would conflict with my extracurricular activities. We were to meet after school a few times before the dance to work out how to use the equipment that we were so graciously allowed to borrow. A team of six students—including myself—tackled the challenge, regardless of the conflicts.

In addition to learning how to run the Serato DJ software, we all had to make playlists, which is one of the hardest things that a DJ has to (gets to) do. We try and find songs with similar beats-per-minute and key, just to make transitions from one song to the next pleasing to the ear. On top of this, we have to improvise and change songs on the spot if technical difficulties arise, or if people just aren’t feeling it. I personally spent over five hours making assorted playlists just so that we could be prepared for whatever problems arose, but me being me, I listen to music probably six hours everyday. This made it a lot easier to find songs because I already knew their style.

After a few weeks of practicing, we finally got to put our skills to the test. We set up the system without a problem and made a schedule as to who was lead DJ at particular times. When the dance started we were ready to have some fun.

The dance was a little slow at first, and getting people to dance was more difficult than we had thought. Eventually, after much coaxing from the DJ team and a few classic songs no one in their right mind could refuse to dance to, we got people groove and have a good time.

It was a lot of fun throughout the whole process, and the end result went better then we had hoped. There were almost no technical difficulties, and people were enjoying themselves. The skills that our team has acquired are some that we will hopefully use many times in the future. Maybe we can even train new DJs in the coming years so that when we graduate, the DJs will have a strong presence and be able to bring some fun to the dances to come.

This experience is just one of many unique things that we as students of The Downtown School have been able to do. In my past schools, we have always brought in people to DJ, and students never really had the chance to do this unless they specifically went out and looked for it. One of the many cool things about The Downtown School is that experiences come to us. And thanks to Jill M., the DJ who trained us, this unusual but fun thing is now a part of who we are as a school and who I am, as me.



Let's Jam!

IMG_6193.JPG

By the Members of the Music Club

Clubs at The Downtown School have a lot of freedom, short of danger: almost any idea can be up for discussion. The Music Club is a small club (like any other club during this founding year), and consists of five regular members and three people who drop in every now and then. Our goals as a club focus around writing music, though we have other plans, such as recording songs of our own and playing some songs live. Here at The Downtown School, Music Club means a lot to us, from the friendships gained through our routine Community Time practice sessions to the frequent banter about all things music.

Our school community makes our school unique in the sense that each of us can come in with our unique interests and strengths and come together to create an inclusive and engaging environment. From the experience that I’ve had so far, Music Club reflects this by bringing a mishmash of people with different musical tastes together over the love for producing and playing music; and it is truly an amazing experience.

The Music Club has been a great way for us to have fun with people that-- despite the small school size-- we wouldn’t have really talked with, but now we know very well. Music Club has encouraged all of us to try new things; Aidan, for example, picked up bass guitar after a combination of our guitarists (Dan and Jonah) decided to help teach him. All of us have also begun to listen to other genres in Music Club.

Last week, we had the opportunity to perform a song at our school’s first dance, and even though we weren’t able to perform at the most recent dance (thanks to darn mic issues!) the experience of preparing for a performance while on a time crunch allowed us to gain experience and be more prepared for a future event. Just a disclaimer: we were completely ready for the performance.

Writing music is difficult. But when we have the chance to work on a song together, and eventually see the finished product, it is all worth it. We also all have different areas of expertise which means we can all learn from each other.


The Allegory of the Long Spoons

 By Seonaidh, current parent

IMG_9441 (1).jpg

You are at a dinner party. This is a sumptuous feast, with delectable food arrayed on your plate. But your silverware…. you only have these long-handled forks and spoons. You are starving, as hungry as Tantalus was thirsty, but you can’t get the food to your mouth. Everyone else at the table is just as miserable, starving and wretched. Consigned here for an eternity. This is hell.

Consider a single change. Same table, same people, same utensils, same eternity. But here, everyone is lifting the food to each others’ mouths. Every person helps the one across from them, tastes the delicious food, savors eternal contentment. This? This is heaven.

This allegory exists in some version or another all around the world, and there is a good reason for that. Humans are social creatures; we have evolved to be collaborate in our social groups. We are more successful individually when we work cooperatively and help our group. Evolution built in a strong feedback loop to reinforce that behavior: it feels good to help; it meets needs for connection and contribution and so much more. Quilting bees, fence-painting parties, barn-raisings--these are all events that are essentially volunteer activities within a social group. They meet specific practical needs; they provide an opportunity to socialize; they indulge our curiosity; they allow us to learn and share our skills; and they often leave artifacts that are a lasting physical testament to the communal effort (like a barn that will be used for 50 years). We feel satisfaction, pride, joy, and share a history over time as we tell and retell stories about the challenges and triumphs of our shared endeavor. We are bound together by our experience, our mutual investment—our interdependence.

And now here we are, jump-starting an entirely new community in The Downtown School. Tuesday night we held our very first Parent Guardian Association meeting. The energy was palpable as we all shared our hunger for connection with other Downtown School families and our ideas for supporting it . . . How might we connect? How might we contribute and collaborate?  

We connect and contribute as volunteers, reaching out. We started with the basics--people stepping up where they could to help put together benches and clean out the school kitchen before school started. This was simple, physical work, but satisfying. We connect with resources, like Chris N.’s expertise for Math 100, or a parent hitting up a New York Times journalist connection for the 9th-Grade History class. There is more to come: Google groups and Facebook pages, social events, weekend activities. And I think there is something quite beautiful about the fact that one of our very first PGA projects turns out to be a series of potluck dinners (featuring normal-sized cutlery, I hope). We connect with the simple act of sharing a meal with each other. Heaven, indeed!

But this doesn’t happen by itself. It takes organization and work from volunteers, just as raising a barn or cleaning a kitchen does. So I entreat you: grab your proverbial hammer and jump in to raise this barn. The PGA is going to be looking for volunteers, please sign up whenever you see an opportunity!



One Worth Taking

By Jessica, a current parent

As a longtime resident of Seattle I am often frustrated by the growth and changes in this city. Yet, I have this enormous appreciation of entering I-5 off of 520, as you come around that crowded curve. On a clear day the view can literally take my breath away. You can see the expanding, sparkling city, Mt. Rainier, and Lake Union. I’m sure this must be a unique experience; there can’t be many places in the world that have such a beautifully framed freeway entrance. I feel lucky and privileged every time it happens to be part of such a stunning community.

My son is an amazing kid; he is smart and kind, he is a gift to raise, and he makes me proud every day. He is not me; he doesn’t have much need for a lot of social outlet; and he asks deep and introspective questions. We are a public school family, we live in a good neighborhood with great public schools, and our three kids have always attended them. Our middle child was bored—not because he didn’t have enough work, but because the work was not tangible; it was not specific, and it was not deep. I thought he might benefit from a different experience, so we went looking for one. We drove all over that crowded freeway and visited many independent schools. My son didn’t warm up to these schools, even though the personalized service blew me away. But to him the other schools looked and sounded like expensive versions of large public high schools, where his older brother attends.

And then we went to a school fair, where we were introduced to The Downtown School. The entire experiment seemed like a risk, but it felt like a unique experience. We went to an interview with Sue Belcher, Head of School, who explained the sparkling vision of a school that would hire teachers that taught from an interdisciplinary approach and use this expanding city as a place to learn from and grow. When it came time to apply, my son chose The Downtown School. He liked the novelty, the experiment, the size of the school, and the theory behind it. 

20181018_LakesideDowntownScienceLab_497.jpg

We are now two months in, and I can say that this risk was one worth taking. This unique experience has been a privilege to participate in. Listening to my son talk about his day, reading Ananya’s post on teaching math, I am inspired, I want to go back to high school, I feel privileged to be part of such a stunning community.

The Evolution of Teaching

By Lupe Fisch

image (2).png

The students sit at attention. They focus on their young teacher. Tension fills the air, along with a little fear. The teacher has a severe look on her face; her eyes are watchful, scanning the small classroom for inappropriate behavior or a lapse in concentration.

The first task is dictation. The pupils open their makeshift notebooks, pick up their pencils, and laboriously write what they hear. The young teacher circulates menacingly, monitoring each student’s progress with skepticism. The only one that has a little difficulty is Julieta, but she’s only three and hasn’t learned to read yet, let alone write. She scribbles earnestly, inventing her own script as she goes.

That was my first classroom. At eight, I would convince my half dozen younger siblings and cousins to gather on the patio, where we would drag end tables from the house to set up a classroom.

We laugh now at their willingness to endure the severe, 19th-century pedagogy that characterized my “teaching” then. They were great sports, and from this vantage I marvel at how early in my life I loved managing a classroom. Fortunately, my path into the profession has led me to some wonderful mentors and teachers; and it helped me transform those early, draconian impulses into a more thoughtful, student-centered methodology. Teaching has always called me. I tutored peers in high school and college, and when I finally had my own real classroom in graduate school, I felt like I had come home.

One of the things I enjoy most about teaching is its constant flux. Students bring their brilliance, their fresh perspectives, their desire for learning; and teachers adapt and hone their craft. Teaching in general--and second-language acquisition in particular--have evolved significantly in the twenty-plus years I have been in the profession. The language classroom has become more communicative and more task-based; and technology has allowed teachers to customize homework to prepare students for more meaningful class activities.

For me, teaching is, at its core, a dialogue--both with students and other teachers. My current focus of growth centers around this. I am working with colleagues at the Global Online Academy on the meaningful use of feedback and assessment; and I’m learning to exploit the robust tools on Canvas to customize instruction for my students, all of whom are at slightly different places in their trajectory. I am grateful for the energy, struggles, and richness of perspective that they bring to this dialogue.

They are already making me a better teacher.



Never say "No"

By Benjamin K.

The number one thing that has struck me about The Downtown School is how the teachers use language. They understand that words matter. It might seem self-evident to you or me, but the power of words is often discounted. However, deliberate word choice can do more good than we imagine. Word choice, which may seem like a tiny detail in our high-speed lives, can have a profound effect on people.

The Downtown School has one specific word policy that has surprised and inspired me. No faculty will ever say “No” to a student’s idea to improve the school, unless it specifically puts students in danger. This is such a simple rule, but the effects on the culture of the school are extraordinary. It empowers students to shape the school in order to make it perfect for them. It is an embracing of the fact that there is always room for improvement.

And I have seen the effects first hand.

I have been to nine schools in my academic career and never have I seen a student body more involved in the school than at The Dowtown School. A student brought in an electric piano for people to play. The student government makes up nearly half the student body.  The student-designed merchandise is some of the best I’ve seen. Even the school Instagram is run by students! People understand that the power of change is in their own hands, and this reflects an enormous trust of, and dedication to, the students.

I have the profound feeling that we have the ability to mold the culture and environment to our design. It is such a unique and empowering experience for us to have. This simple policy of never saying “no” has made me realize one important lesson: you should always sweat the small stuff.

20180920_LakesideDowntown092018_371.jpg

Perpetual Beta

BLOG.jpg

By Sue Belcher

The start of school is an exciting time. It is a time of renewal. I typically create a vision for what my year will look like, specifically when I operate as my best self. I create health and wellness goals, practice habits that will increase my efficiency, and design routines and chores for my kids in order to transform our household into a well-oiled machine.

At work, it’s time to develop a mantra, or motto, for the year.  In my experience, mottos are essential to rally a group around a purpose. This year the motto is “perpetual beta,” and the teaching team has fully embraced it. In the first year of operation, The Downtown School is essentially a startup. Our team is rethinking school in countless ways.

Examples:

  • Distributive leadership - Each faculty member has administrative responsibilities (communications, facilities, technology, admissions) in addition to their teaching role.

  • Curriculum - The Downtown School has Lakeside School’s trademark academic rigor paired with experiential learning. We’ve built community partnerships, are re-envisioning our approach to teaching writing and math, and are weaving core competencies into everything that we do.

  • Communication - Our team exclusively uses Slack, rather than email, for internal communication. To book meetings with anyone outside our teaching team, I use YouCanBookMe, which saves precious time coordinating schedules. We are on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, with each being updated/posted to several times per week.

  • Admissions - Interviews take place at KEXP Gathering Space, demonstrating from the first point of connection that we use the city as a lab for learning.

  • Feedback - We weren’t with satisfied the grade and narrative options available in our student information system. In response, Ananya and Lupe, inspired by Seattle Girls’ School’s model, created our own feedback system using Google sheets. In addition to a grade, teachers and advisors comment on students’ strengths, areas for growth, and give feedback on course-specific competencies.

  • Time and Space - Our school day runs from 9 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. and Downtown School students embrace our open-campus policy during lunch. Learning happens everywhere, all of the time.

All this novelty can be challenging, especially for the perfectionists among us. With perpetual beta, our team is operating with a tech company approach. If you wait to release something until it is perfect, it’s already outdated. Perpetual beta allows each of us to try new things, and it creates a sense of safety around risk and failure. The rapid prototyping of ideas required for success in a startup assumes that mistakes will be made, and that people will iterate accordingly. This is a mindset that we want to embody so that we can model it for our students.


How Do Writers Write?

By Brian Crawford

A year ago I had an epiphany: the way I taught writing vastly differed from the way I wrote.

In Language Arts education, buzz words for writing instruction abound: 6 + 1 traits, free-write, peer editing, writers’ workshop, conferencing, writing rubrics, student-centered instruction, and so on. Teachers embrace these approaches, attending well-run conferences, ordering supplementary materials, and honing their craft. For years, I too embraced these conventional approaches.

But then I realized: As a professional author, I did none of these things. Sure, I planned, drafted, and rewrote, revised, and cut; but never once had I consciously applied the seven traits, used a rubric, or really benefited from critique groups (whose feedback was generally overly polite and all over the map).

image.png

Instead, I created a gnarled draft, and my editor and I had lengthy conversations about major content strengths and weaknesses. I re-wrote and re-submitted the entire manuscript, addressing these issues. The next round focused on line-by-line tweaks of sentence structure, clarity, dialogue, diction, and fluency. Enter draft three, which would be sent through three rounds of copy-editing and proofing before going to press.

At The Downtown School, the teachers use a similar approach to all publications: content editing, multiple drafts, and proofing by many eyes.

So if this is the way writing happens professionally, why didn’t I teach that way?

Now I do.

Instead of filling a student’s paper with comments and expecting improvement, I meet with every student to discuss major issues. We exchange ideas, and the student keeps a running document--created by them in Google Docs and shared with me--in which they take notes on all points to address. In subsequent writing, students consult this (ever-growing) bullet-point list prior to drafting. Their goal: to continue in the same vein as before, but now consciously addressing the points. This list becomes the student’s personalized and constantly evolving rubric. And copy-editing? We practice how to identify mechanics problems in others’ and our own writing, and we address these through multiple rounds of shared proofing.

So is this way the best way? I can’t say. But what I can say is that this approach is meant to mirror what happens in professional contexts. And since I have adopted this approach, I have seen more growth than I have with any other writing instructional method. Not that I hope to train future published authors, but I do hope to train writers with the skills to focus on what matters most: clarity of content.



It's Not You; It's Me.


By Ananya Rabeya

“I’m not a math person.”

I frequently take Uber or Lyft, and I cannot tell you how many of my drivers have winced when they found out I am a math teacher, followed by this very statement.

And each of those times, I thought, could it be that we have kept math a secret?

How would you feel if you thought everybody loved mathematics and they just haven’t found out about it yet? You would awaken the possibilities by re-imagining a millennium-old school mathematics curriculum.

Now imagine the light in the eyes of 14-year-olds, listening, understanding and being captivated by the patterns in the US progressive tax structure, so much so that they jump off their seats, rush to the nearest whiteboards to successfully devise a 7-step algorithm for their Federal Individual Income Tax Brackets. Soon, they will be choosing a location for their social entrepreneurial venture in the city, analyzing parameters in the city’s census data, planning ways to generate a retirement fund that can support the self, the local and the global community. If your eyes are shining by now, you will love their fossil fuel and net energy investigation to go along with their economy impact model.

20180920_LakesideDowntown092018_208.jpg

Soon after, they will foray into the airline industry’s database, innovate ways to optimize travel schedules and navigation, studying how travel is affected by weather patterns. Join them as they make their way into restaurant kitchens, culinary institutes, and food banks, studying food distribution, health needs, and nutrition factors. If you have been craving for a creativity jolt, join their expedition to Peacock in the Desert, and the masterclass art that will follow.

Finding inspiration from the beauty and elegance around them, and from mathematicians of the past and present, our Downtown School Students will be getting to do what we never did - deep-dive into thematic mathematics. Financial Literacy, Travel, Food, Census, ArtEast, History, Coding and Ethnomathematics are the themes they are plunging into this year. If you haven’t had a taste of modern mathematical learning expeditions, and would like to see mini mathematicians in the making, we welcome you to the heart of our math campus filled with shining eyes and awakened minds.

As for my Uber, Lyft drivers, this is what I tell them: “It’s not you; it’s me.” That day isn’t far though when my next generation of mathematicians will be bringing them home to Mathematics.