High Schools 2010

Private Lives

A crash course in private school programs.

By Clancey Denis November 11, 2010 Published in the December 2010 issue of Seattle Met

Stylist Ashley Helvey; hair and makeup by Megan Dodge.

THERE ARE 50 private high schools in the greater Seattle area. Some have sprawling tree-lined campuses, others are urban enclaves nestled among the bustle of downtown. Championship football teams, award-winning mathletes, budding artists, future humanitarians, and technology whizzes have all found homes at some of the city’s most prestigious academic institutions. And while your options are vast, narrowing the field to the school that best suits your child’s needs is no small task. So we went back to high school, walked the halls and sampled some of the most exciting programs and extracurriculars. Which school is best? It’s all about finding the right match.

Wi-Fi High
Unless you hail from the future, your high school chemistry class was nothing like the chemistry class—heck, any class—at Eastside Preparatory School. Students curl over touch-screen tablets and scrawl equations, which they submit with the press of a thumb to the chem teacher, who projects the entries onto a large screen for close scrutiny. The school, founded in 2003 by parents working at Microsoft and other local tech companies, takes its gadgets seriously. Assignments are posted on the school’s intranet, synced to students’ tablets, and are completed, graded, and returned without the use of printers. Even art is relatively paperless, with a “digital reality” course—filmmaking with digital cameras and stop-motion animation—attracting more students than the old-school paint-brush-and-canvas classes.

Parents are the driving force behind Eastside. “A couple of years ago I was asked to put together a three-year plan for the rollout of new systems to bring our school up to a higher standard,” says director of technology Jonathan Briggs. “The parents raised the money in one year and challenged me to implement all of it immediately. ” Eastside Prep graduated its first senior class in 2009. Those 11 students will likely fill their parents’ shoes at the top tech companies.—HM

Real Initiative
High school senior John Curry voted for the first time on November 2. But we bet he knew more about what was on the ballot than you did—especially when it came to Initiative 1098. The 18-year-old volunteered to campaign for the initiative to create a state income tax for the wealthy. “Volunteered” might not be the right word. Northwest School, on a tree-lined street in Capitol Hill, requires seniors to spend 18 hours working for a political cause before they can graduate. Not that Curry’s complaining. Though the gig entailed phoning voters who often hung up on him, the canvassing paid off. “Those times when you connect with the voter and tell them something that they don’t know—that to me is what this whole project is about.”

Part of a humanities class that also includes politics, the program furthers students’ understanding of the real-world applications of the Constitution, says teacher Daniel Sparler: “There is some resistance to the requirement at first, but by the end of the experience there is a lot of ownership among the students.” And for some students, the real-world applications become immediately apparent. Hannah Rempel joined a campaign against Initiative 1107, the proposal to revoke the sales tax on certain foods and beverages, only to realize, while watching a news segment on the initiative, that her family would be directly impacted. In the segment, her father, who works in the health-care industry, was interviewed, commenting on how much the initiative would affect his employment. The initiative failed.

Check Mates
Lakeside School
, where mini Bill Gates and mini Paul Allen once nerded out over proto computers, is an obvious hatching ground for world leaders—a teen Ivy League campus with brick facades and a clock tower. But these days, the future masters of the universe are as likely to be at chessboards as keyboards. Blame Siva Sankrithi, a math teacher who moonlights as the chess coach. By placing Lakeside’s chess team on par with, say, the football team—Lakeside nabbed first place at both the Seattle Metro Chess League and the state team championships last year—Sankrithi has turned rook wrangling into the extracurricular activity on campus. During lunch and other downtimes, cadres of kids can be found bent over speed-chess matches and Bughouse, a variant of the game played in teams. On Monday night the more formal training ensues, as Sankrithi leads 25 students through drills with the help of local chess master Josh Sinanan of the U.S. Chess League. The sessions, says Sankrithi, not only make for better board game jockeys, but reward critical thinking and ingenuity. The pawn-pushing posse’s goal: Dominate the United States Chess Federation tournament in Nashville in April 2011. After that: Dominate, like the Lakesiders before them, everything else.—CD

Social Ed
There are just 67 students in grades nine through 12 this year at Seattle Waldorf. That’s because Waldorf’s new at the high school game. (Until three years ago it was only a collection of K through 8 schools.) You could argue that the traditional concept of school would be new to Waldorf, too. There are no electives. Virtually no textbooks—students create their own, called “morning lesson books.” No courses as you might recognize them. Instead, this fall the freshman class spent two weeks working on a biodynamic farm; the sophomore class worked at a sustainable forestry camp; the junior class focused on urban manufacturing. “The world needs human beings who can work with each other in a profound way,” explains admissions director Neil Weinberg. “It’s a social education.”

And once students go for the nontraditional track, they never go back. Alum Clare O’Connor tried. After attending Waldorf for grades K through 8, O’Connor wanted to branch out and attend a traditional school. So for ninth and 10th grades, she did, earning straight As. But she was bored by nightly worksheets and weekly quizzes. She reentered the Waldorf fold for her junior and senior years with rekindled interest in a learning environment that nurtured independent thinking among a class full of like-minded peers.—HM

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