Unlike most of Georgia’s middle schoolers, students at Atlanta SMART Academy started classes this month as their school’s inaugural class.

Atlanta SMART is a new charter performing arts school for students in grades 5-8. Founded by Patrice Meadows, the school’s name Atlanta SMART is a portmanteau of Science, MAth and aRT.

Meadows, a former teacher, has worked with elementary, middle and high schoolers throughout her career. She said she chose to open a middle school because it’s a major period of development for students.

“Middle school is really the time when students begin making decisions and laying a pathway to become college bound. We want to allow them to enter high school on a college track,” Meadows said.

As a performing arts school, students at Atlanta SMART will choose a major each year; this first year students can choose dance, theater or music (vocal and instrumental).

Trina Paden’s 11-year-old daughter Zoe, started sixth grade at Atlanta SMART this year. Paden said her daughter is undecided between being a dance or music major. Parden and her husband came across Atlanta SMART while searching for a STEM middle school to send their daughter to.

“Zoe is very creative and has always been drawn to the arts,” Paden said. “Having her in an academic environment where there is an intentional focus on the arts every day is a rare opportunity, especially in middle school.”

Atlanta SMART’s project-based curriculum was another feature that Paden said attracted them to the school.

Principal Meadows said as a high school chemistry teacher she regularly incorporated project-based learning into her classes and wanted to bring that teaching model to her new school.

She said when a former student of hers brought up a lab they’d done in her class that she had forgotten about, it helped to cement the importance of a project-based curriculum in her mind.

We did an ice cream lab,” Meadows said. “Students learned about phase changes, how liquids become solid.”

Using lessons to solve problems was something Meadows knew would be a central component to the school’s educational practice. School days at Atlanta SMART are also structured to include ‘flex time’ for the students.

Paden’s daughter Zoe said her first day was ‘awesome’ getting to know her new teachers and making friends.

“I believe that artistic expression aids in developing self-awareness, self-confidence, empathy, and social skills, all critically important in adolescent development. We are looking forward to Zoe having a holistic learning experience,” Paden said.

Meadows’ vision for Atlanta SMART is a school that emphasizes thinking outside of the box where students use their knowledge to come up with solutions.

The school’s core values are Creativity, Competence, Collaboration and Compassion.

“We want students to learn there are multiple ways to get to a correct answer,” Meadows said. “We believe in ongoing assessment and growth, where students have an opportunity to try again.”

In addition to peer editing and teacher feedback, students who don’t perform well on an assignment will have the opportunity to make edits to demonstrate what they have learned.

Each week students have a 1-on-1 meeting with a mentor. Meadows said this is so every student knows they have a faculty member who will advocate for them. The school also hosts monthly curriculum nights for parents and guardians so they are familiar with what their students are learning and can support them at home. 

Atlanta SMART emphasizes meaningful relationships with students and families.

“We make sure we provide all resources students need — all technology and supplies so there are no barriers for a family to enroll their student,” Meadows said.

They have been applying for funding grants so the school can offer low-cost after-care programs for working families.

This year Atlanta SMART has 125 students enrolled in fifth through seventh grades and 10 teachers. Next year they will grow to 200 students and add eighth grade and arts teachers.

By starting a year earlier, Meadows hopes to give fifth graders an advantage in the difficult elementary to middle school transition.

The school is located off MLK Drive in Southwest Atlanta where the old unemployment office used to be. Meadows’ said she chose this location because it is central to the community and accessible to families.

As a school in a predominantly black area, Meadows is proud that students will see themselves represented in their teachers and their principal.

 

 

Support for this article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.

Principal Patrice Meadows and Director of Operations Jocelyn Scott of Atlanta SMART Academy. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Atlanta SMART Academy)