New England School of the Arts To Open in Lebanon, NH
Private, non-profit high school now accepting applications
Suppose you’re a high school kid (or have one at home) with a passion for the arts—theater, creative writing, music, dance—and are wondering if there is a school that would nurture those interests while also providing an academic curriculum. Jennifer and Carl Chambers wondered, too. After searching and “finding no such opportunity within a 60-mile radius of Dartmouth College,” they decided to establish the New England School of the Arts, a private nonprofit high school.
It is scheduled to open in the fall of 2023 in downtown Lebanon, New Hampshire.
Carl Chambers, who heads the school (Jennifer is the associate head), answered a few questions:
1. How long have you had the idea for a school for the arts, and what made you decide that this was the moment to put the plan into motion?
Jenny and I both explored the idea of opening an arts-based school when we were educators in New York City. We are both artists and have been lucky enough to have had the access to excellent arts training throughout our youth. Our desire to provide access for students to exceptional and humanistic school programs is at the root of this journey we are taking with NESA. . . [W]hen the Covid-19 pandemic hit, we took a long hard look at our goals and dreams for our future and our own children’s futures. The pandemic also highlighted the lack of prioritization of the arts in education. We wanted to create a school where arts integration was the number one priority and not second or third to other disciplines.
2. For whom is the school designed? Is it for students who have a general interest in the arts, those who see themselves in an arts career? How many students do you anticipate you will have?
The New England School of the Arts welcomes any student with a passion for the arts and learning to be a part of a creative, like-minded, collaborative community. We will offer the full academic spectrum with a focus toward Science Technology Engineering ARTS and Math.
We have the capacity for up to 150 students [for the initial year, enrolling across grades 9 to 12]. We have already had great interest in the school and are receiving applications.
3. What is the physical location of the school?
Our central school location will be 9 Hanover Street, Lebanon, NH 03766, located above the Dartmouth Women’s Health Resource Center and next to River Valley Community College. Students will also enjoy elements of our program with our partner organizations located within a walking distance in Downtown Lebanon. We are a lab arts high school with a laser focus on stewardship and community service. Students will participate and contribute to the culture and community as a part of their educational program. In short, the school in partnership with the local community will provide our students with a wider and more robust opportunity for them to construct their learning and sense of self.
4. I took a look at the curriculum and noticed something that said students from “sending schools” will have to comply with the sending school’s requirements for graduation versus those who are enrolled at NESA for a diploma. Does that mean you will have part-time students who are primarily enrolled and will graduate from, say, Hartford or Hanover High, and others who will have a diploma solely from NESA?
NESA strives to provide select students from regional districts who would like to stay in their current high school’s access to a more robust and thoughtful arts education; still providing them with credit towards graduation at their current schools. However, based on the current level of applications and interest in NESA, we may not be able to accommodate as many of those students if enrollment is what we now anticipate. We will have after-school and summer programs where these students can participate in some of the opportunities that NESA will provide if we are unable to accept them into our academic day.
In addition to the arts curriculum, NESA will offer courses in the sciences, math, history, English, economics, and languages (French and Spanish). A scroll through the curriculum as it appears on the website also specifies professional competencies such as personal finance, career exploration, and business technology.
Collaborators and supporters in the venture —an ever-expanding group—reads like a who’s who of Upper Valley arts organizations and businesses: AVA Gallery, Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra, Ellis Music, Hypertherm, Hood Museum, JAG Productions, Lebanon Ballet School, Lebanon Opera House, and Upper Valley Music Center, to name just a few.
Board members include Filippo Ciabatti of Dartmouth College, former president of Salomon Brothers International turned sculptor Miles Slater (Chair); Amy Good (Vice-Chair; Attorney Lara Saffo (Secretary); Wayne Chin of Hypertherm ; and Denise Frawley, who has choreographed many shows at various Upper Valley schools. Susan Keck will serve as Board Treasurer.
Applications are already underway. For more information, go to the NESA website.
(Photos courtesy of Jennifer Chambers and NESA.)
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And in case you are wondering . . .Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.