L-R James Watson (Co-Founder and Director of Innovation
Mathematics, Entrepreneurship), Mary Campbell Jenkins (Co-Founder and Director of Admissions and Operations), and Peter Lefkowicz (Co-Founder and Head of School English, Humanities, Economics). Photos by Isadora Pennington

By Isadora Pennington

“We really believe in the power of small schools,” said Peter Lefkowicz, one of the cofounders of The New School, a small independent high school with an emphasis on meaningful work.

It was back in 2014 that Lefkowicz, Mary Campbell Jenkins, and James Watson first opened up the doors on the school. The three, all with a background in education, felt that the standard for high schools were not adapting well to the changing times. “Ultimately it just hasn’t been serving many kids for a while,” Watson explained.

“As teachers and parents, Peter and I had long imagined the possibility of creating a high school where students could do work that really mattered to them –and to the city and world around them,” said Jenkins. “The opportunity to create a place where students learn as much outside the classroom as they learn inside school has always been a dream.”

The New School is a fully accredited high school, and operates on a relatively traditional schedule. Classes begin at 8:45 a.m. and the students are out at 4 p.m., with student-run groups and meetings running until about 5 p.m. The structure and course load is where the difference between The New School and public high schools is evident.

Students have immersive class experiences, where they learn and practice their skills in the real world, and outside of the realm of the classroom. For example, if they are acting, they might have their rehearsals and performances at Horizon Theater. This also provides opportunities for interactions between students and experts in the field, and often leads to mentorships.

Another element that The New School employs is major projects within the community. These projects are complex and center around real issues like clean water, homelessness and civil rights. Students have to employ multiple skills that they have learned from classes when they approach these issues, a tactic which often cements the lessons in a more real way. By empowering the students to tackle problems within the community, it encourages entrepreneurship and opens up the door for valuable internships.

The students also benefit from a weekly speaker series when experts and community partners are able to share their stories. Some featured speakers have included the folks behind King of Pops, Michelle Nunn and performers from the World Poetry Slam. Student-run courses by the name of TNSX at the end of each day provide the last notable difference in approach, with topics such as drone design, virtual reality, murals, poetry and art. These classes offer an opportunity for students to pursue understanding of topics that are important to them, and not just what is dictated by the school.

Students gather at The New School.

“We really want our kids to be doing real work in the real world,” said Lefkowicz.

Until recently, the school held residence in a few rooms at the Inman Park United Methodist Church. Over time, as interest grew and more students enrolled, the organization started to outgrow the confines of their building. Their numbers have steadily increased, from the initial 17 students, to about 55 kids now. It is estimated that for the fall semester of 2017 that is currently enrolling, they will have about 75 to 80 students. Ultimately, they plan to cap their student count at about 150 in order to retain healthy student to teacher numbers and to foster a sense of community within the student body.

Thanks to the work of Jenkins, Lefkowicz, Watson, and the dedicated parents, students, and community partners, they were able to purchase a building at 655 Memorial Drive to become their permanent home.

“At The New School we are just getting started. We’ve gathered an incredible faculty and built a new model for high school,” said Jenkins. “We want each one of those students to experience the benefits of a tight knit school community and the excitement of playing an active role in the vast and vibrant city around them.”

For more information, visit tnsatlanta.org or call (404) 500-9753.

 

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.