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Why focus on theatre?
Our reasons are many-fold! We are advocates for ALL art forms, and believe deeply in their inherent worth as stand-alone subjects and as part of integrated curricula. The reason we chose theatre as the foundation for our school is because as a discipline it offers multiple pathways into other art forms such as music, dance, visual arts, and writing. In professional musical theatre productions, each of these art forms is explored deeply and valued equally.
The theatrical process also lends itself to academic integration. By devising, adapting, and performing plays based on classical and modern texts, students read, write, analyze, observe, memorize, problem-solve, collaborate, perspective-take, present, critique, iterate, and reflect. They become experts about texts and subject matter related to their plays.
Instead of just reading a Shakespeare play in English class, ATLAS students engage in all aspects of bringing it from the page to the stage for a real, paying audience. Their studies of the historical time period, political structures, social studies, and geography ultimately serve to enhance their final product. Their work to design and build their sets, costumes, and props requires science, technology, engineering, visual arts, and math. Students also manage the business aspects of their theatre company, which provides an invaluable opportunity to practice the skills necessary for success in the 21st century workforce.
Students can also pursue different learning pathways within theatre while still working as a team to create a final product. For example, an introverted young person might flourish as the designated stage-manager on a production, gaining valuable organization and leadership skills. Another might oversee the set design and construction, using design thinking, technology, and engineering to complete their work. Ultimately, it is our hope that as each individual learner develops, they will be motivated to explore different facets of the production process.
Finally, not only is theatre an academically generative art-form, it is also a physically, vocally, and emotionally demanding discipline. ATLAS students will gain invaluable awareness and control of their bodies, voices, and minds at a time of significant metamorphosis in their lives.
How will my child improve as a reader and writer?
Proficiency in reading and writing is paramount to maximizing choices in life. ATLAS students read constantly and write prolifically as part of their work to produce plays.
We explore a range of complex texts including novels, biographies, nonfiction academic articles, newspapers and periodicals, as well as classical and modern plays. Using the drama tool of text-analysis, students learn to draw inferences and support their statements with textual evidence. Repeatedly reading text aloud during the rehearsal process has been shown to improve fluency, confidence, and comprehension. Memorization of texts helps students internalize language.
Students also engage in mandatory independent reading both in the home and during quiet times at school. They choose these texts autonomously and teachers track their progress.
ATLAS students produce purposeful written work in support of their inquiry. Through writing personal narratives, daily diary entries, dramaturgical research reports, character analyses, poetry, short stories, comparative and persuasive essays, and market research reports for their theatre company, students incorporate writing into their self-concept and develop personal voice. Writing workshops encourage repeated drafting of each text, and a portfolio of writing work is critiqued at the end of each semester. Students also work together to write original scripts based on their social studies curriculum, and adapt a novel into a performance piece.
By connecting their reading and writing to the theatrical process, students are more motivated to persevere in these critical activities and learn to recognize them as central components of most meaningful work.
What about math and science?
In order to prepare for high school math and science curricula at competitive high schools, ATLAS students engage in targeted, sequential math and science instruction from a trained teacher and receive additional support from local museum partnerships, technology-based interventions, and community mentors.
7th graders learn to think mathematically, and build upon their foundational knowledge to complete more advanced mathematical operations. They explore ratios and proportional relationships, rational numbers, percentages, and geometry. 8th graders advance their abstract reasoning skills and number sense while exploring algebraic expressions.
Students entering ATLAS with a mastery of covered mathematical concepts will be supported and challenged by individualized projects.
To enhance their stand-alone math curriculum, students connect their design and construction projects to mathematical units of study. For example, as part of their study of ratios and proportional relationships, students will build a scale-model of an original set design in their STEM Stagecraft class. When studying percentages, students will create a production budget for their theatre company, conduct market research, and present to the board a budget narrative and report.
How will you ensure diversity among the staff and student body?
Consistent with our mission to cultivate active citizens of our communities, we are committed to creating an inclusive learning community reflective of New Haven’s socioeconomic, racial/ethnic, gender/orientation, ability, and philosophical diversity. We believe diversity among teachers and learners maximizes learning and strengthens our school.
We also believe quality education is a basic human right, and our ultimate goal is to serve all young people who are eager to attend ATLAS regardless of their family’s financial situation. Our operating budget is created with this priority. By creatively utilizing a small team of expert teachers, administrators, and teaching artists, we are able to keep our tuition below the area average for a private middle school education. In addition to offering a lower tuition, we pursue funding from foundations and individual donors in order to offer generous financial aid packages to at least 30% of our families who demonstrate need. Every family contributes to their child’s education according to their ability to do so.
Students who experience feelings of alienation in other environments based on their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, learning differences, and or personal belief systems will find in ATLAS a safe, supportive, and responsive place to learn and grow. We believe that forthright, facilitated conversations among people from different backgrounds and stances are crucial to building compassionate communities, and that academic inquiry must incorporate these themes.
How will you prove that students are learning?
Learners and their families deserve direct and frequent communication about the learning that takes place throughout the school year. ATLAS students are leaders of their own learning, and facilitate parent-teacher meetings at the end of each semester, presenting their portfolio of work and speaking to their personal challenges and areas of growth. The portfolio model requires gathering multiple products of their learning to demonstrate improvement over the course of the year. In the portfolio, parents see examples of their student’s masterful work in each of the disciplines.
Along with portfolios to document and display student learning, the theatrical productions themselves showcase student work. The public nature of the event raises the stakes and expectations (both intrinsically and extrinsically) for students and teachers. By watching multiple plays throughout the year, parents witness for themselves the growth their children experience.
Because test taking is a common means of assessment in most area high schools, ATLAS students will participate in some traditional testing. They take a standardized assessment each fall to serve as both test-taking practice and a means of tracking student skill-mastery and content knowledge in order to guide instruction for the year. In Math Lab, students will take assessments designed by the teacher to track learning.
Each teacher ultimately designs their own forms of assessment and evaluation, using tools such as exit tickets, rubrics, and class critiques. They document learning using images, video, journaling, and narrative writing, and they share this documentation with students, colleagues, and parents.
Do any other schools look like this?
There are many innovative schools within our own region and across the nation which function upon similar core values and beliefs about teaching and learning. While schools across the country prioritize project-based, experiential learning, we know of no other stand-alone middle school using the theatre company model as their foundation for all learning. However, project-based, expeditionary learning schools operate successfully across the nation, and student outcomes (test-taking, college-placement, career readiness, etc.) are extremely strong in these schools. It is our hope that ATLAS will serve as a curricular model for other schools to adopt in the future.
What kind of teachers do you hire?
The best ones! We recruit teachers from top education programs including Harvard Graduate School of Education, Bank Street College, Columbia Teacher’s College, and NYU Steinhardt. We look for deeply passionate and highly trained individuals whose beliefs align with our core values. We seek out skilled teaching artists who actively pursue their artistic craft and believe that teaching enhances their professional work as artists. Both teachers and teaching artists must be committed to collaboration and dedicated to creating a democratic school. We also believe that teaching is an artistic craft, and support teachers in their pursuit of creative and professional development.
Where will my child go to high school after ATLAS?
ATLAS students will graduate with the intellectual, social, and emotional tools necessary to succeed in any high school they wish to attend. If students are passionate about the arts and aim to attend an arts-based high school, their training will make them very competitive candidates. Students who choose to pursue a traditional high school education will be fully equipped to do so, and will enter their 9th grade classrooms with high-level critical thinking and communication skills. ATLAS faculty and administrators are in direct communication with families and students throughout their decision-making and application process.
How does one apply to ATLAS? Who gets in?
We seek young people who display curiosity about their world, commitment to their work, creativity in their thinking, confidence in themselves, and compassion toward others. During individual interviews, we assess whether a learner will flourish within our learning community by asking questions about their previous schooling, their personal passions and aspirations, and by hearing their own questions about ATLAS. We are not an audition-based or test-score based school. A student may be accepted into ATLAS with no theatre experience. We collect a writing sample and conduct a math skills assessment only to provide valuable information for curriculum planning.
We invite applicants to participate in a workshop in order to experience ATLAS teaching and learning in action, and for our team to observe students working collaboratively.
Families must also demonstrate a commitment to our core values and to their child’s education. In conversation with families, we discuss hypothetical scenarios and address questions and concerns. Ultimately, a student will be accepted into ATLAS when faculty, administrators, families, and individual learners mutually agree it is the right place for her or him.
We meet each individual learner where they arrive along their intellectual, social, and emotional journey, and design individual learning pathways upon acceptance into ATLAS.
What is the tuition for ATLAS?
The tuition for 2019-2020 is $25,000.
What is your financial aid policy?
We are deeply committed to creating a school that is diverse in many ways -- including socio-economic status. In our first years, the amount of available financial aid will depend on the size and makeup of our initial cohorts, as well as on donor support. We will use the same financial aid service as most area independent schools (SSS - School and Student Services by National Association for Independent Schools) to standardize the financial aid process.. We are working diligently to ensure we can offer support to any family who wishes to send their child to ATLAS.