By Avery Cooper
Downtown Dallas is the classroom for just a little over 200 students at CityLab High School, located in the heart of the city center.
The Dallas Independent School District CHOICE School, in its third year of operation, focuses not only on architecture, environmental science and urban planning, but also it prepares future community leaders interested in making a difference.
“They’re kids that are very active in the community, very involved in the community,” Principal Lynn Smith said. “Really, they’re kids that want to make a difference in the world. We talk about that a lot, especially in urban areas which need our support.”
Smith, in her second year leading the school, said her hope for students is for them to be prepared for life’s next steps and continue their work as leaders as urban areas grow.
The school, “open concept” without traditional classrooms, gives students a chance to be involved in real-world decisions current Dallas city leaders face. The teens will have the opportunity to work with industry experts who are designing Harold Simmons Park, set to be the “biggest urban park in the nation.”
“Our students are working directly with the Trinity River Conservancy to talk about activating areas where people can have entrance into the park, into the Trinity River,” Smith said. “We’re kind of excited, we’re kind of becoming the ‘think-tank’ for students in this area.”
Smith said parents send their kids to CityLab to have a different educational experience by learning through projects, not just sitting in rows.
CityLab has doubled its student population since opening, but the plan for the concept has been in the works for decades.
“This conversation has been going on a long time,” said CityLab co-founder and architecture instructor, Peter Goldstein.
Goldstein said the idea was to use the city as a classroom and take learning beyond the walls of the school and work with industry professionals to enhance students learning.
“One of the ways we’re cutting edge, and part of our objectives with CHOICE schools is to be the learning lab for the district, where we can try out new ideas to engage students,” Goldstein said.
From working alongside New York City planners to data research and roof gardens with the Texas Trees Foundation to help alleviate the heat island, Goldstein said CityLab students are learning to look at the world with multiple lenses.
“What gets me excited is seeing students engage with the city at this level,” he said. “We had this meeting where our kids were sitting at a table with traffic engineers, architects, urban planners and nonprofits where their ideas are being sought out and see them come to fruition. I think that’s what makes CityLab truly unique.”
Goldstein said he knows all the students won’t go on to be architects or urban planners, but the goal is for them to be creative problem solvers.
“No matter what profession they go into, our goal is for them to be engaged and informed about the community and promote inclusivity,” he said. “We want our students to know their voice matters.”
CityLab Board Chair and District 11 Dallas City Plan Commissioner Jaynie Schultz said she hopes the school becomes a place that the community turns to when they want to connect with a student body that’s reflective of the city of Dallas.
As a leader in the Jewish community, Schultz said her own experience as one of only a few Jewish students in a large school formed her path into leadership, and she is encouraged by schools that offer diversity and promote inclusivity.
“I hope our community will embrace this incubator,” she said. “It truly is an incubator for the future of business and activism from every walk of life.”
By Avery Cooper