In 1970, a group of students and their parents lobbied the Seattle School District to open an alternative high school that operated differently from the rest of the district. They particularly asked for a school without curriculum that centered on student interests, where teachers and students would share decision-making and activities could diverge from expectations without impeding regulations from the school board. After a multi-year fight, The Nova Project opened. Since then, the school has stayed small and focused.
Today, the mission of Nova is “to be a democratically governed learning community of broadly educated, diverse, creative and independent thinkers who work collaboratively and demonstrate a high degree of individual and social responsibility.” Students and adults continue to share decision-making, and Nova students have an equal voice with adults in the school in a number of areas, including curriculum, teacher hiring, the school budget, and more. Each student determines their own learning schedule, and is required to take a role in governing the school. Students at Nova learn through project-based approaches to teaching. Seminar-style courses, multi-level classes and independent study are hallmarks of the school, which targets under-resourced, under-achieving students as well as self-driven learners.
The school does not grade students, instead relying on a system of self-assessment. Students meet monthly with learning coordinators who track their progress. Students focus learning time on non-core topics primarily related to social justice. There is a weekly commitment to social activism that is supported in a variety of ways by adults throughout the school community. There are also extracurricular activities focused on a number of topics, including groups focused on student identities, “other wellness”, transitions, “unorthodox chess”, and a POC (People of Color) group. Students at Nova are regularly credited throughout Seattle for their contributions to the community and their rates of acceptance to higher education.