This new school—created by the community, for the community—is an anchor in the bustling redevelopment of a local Memphis landmark and draws students from across the city.
How They Came to Be
Crosstown High’s XQ Super School Journey
The Crosstown High design team was one of the largest and most diverse teams in the XQ Super School competition, with a total of 69 people coming together from across Memphis. Their saga began when parent Ginger Spickler spotted an XQ billboard on the highway and got intrigued. She decided to call a meeting and sent an email inviting everyone she thought might be interested, from teachers, parents, and students to local architects, writers, and business owners. The numbers and momentum grew rapidly from there—for example, the design team gathered input from more than 200 students. The Crosstown team wants more for the young people of Memphis. So, together with hundreds of neighbors, they built a school that fulfills that vision.
Crosstown High shares space in the Crosstown Concourse with more than 40 businesses, nonprofits, health facilities, and civic groups—all dedicated to using arts and culture as a catalyst for community change. Multidisciplinary projects and partnerships with neighboring organizations give students access to real-world learning where everyone benefits and everyone grows. This “diverse-by-design” school recruits students from across a rapidly evolving Memphis that’s trying to put a history of segregation and inequality in the past. Student voice has been part of the model from the beginning, starting with a design process driven by ideas and suggestions from more than 200 Memphis youth.
Crosstown Design Features
1.Student voice taken seriously
Student voice has been at the center of Crosstown’s model from the beginning and will remain part of its evolution. The design team was inspired by listening to the thoughts, feelings, and ideas of over 200 Memphis young people who explained that they felt undervalued and unheard. Crosstown High is a school where students feel safe, not just from bullying and crime, but from anything that keeps them from exploring their ideas, their identities, and the world around them. At Crosstown High, students take an active role in creating their own culture and community. In addition to choices related to academic projects, students can select “flex classes” that give them time to explore or cultivate interests like film-making and podcasting that may not show up in the classes on their transcript.
Hi, I'm Lucy.
“We get to pick what we’re really interested in and that helps us learn. In geometry, we built sustainable houses. I designed the whole house and we used a ton of math. It helped the information stick in our minds, because we got to put it to use. That was a really good way for me to learn. And a really cool final product.”
Crosstown High uses an intentional approach to creating a diverse environment, recruiting students from a cross-section of the city and seeking to foster a strong sense of community among students and families. With an emphasis on diversity, inclusion, and urban revitalization, in a historically segregated city where the majority of charter high schools overly represent the city’s Black population, Crosstown High attracts students from across the city, representing the full diversity of the community. With a student population that is 55% Black, 31% White, 6% Latinx, 6% Multirace, and 2% Other, Crosstown High has begun its work to reverse the tide of segregation. Crosstown students are quick to express that they’re learning in new and powerful ways, and that they all benefit from the varied perspectives their peers bring to their collaborative work.
Chief of Staff
“The vision is for Crosstown High students to be living proof that traditional systems can be broken in ways that ultimately benefit everyone.”
Hi, I'm Vera.
“Crosstown High does a lottery system so that they don’t have any preference on who gets in and who doesn’t. People meet people they would never have met if they weren't going to this school.”
3.Community partnerships for real-world learning
Crosstown High is located in Crosstown Concourse, a 1.2-million-square-foot redevelopment of an iconic local landmark. It’s home to arts organizations, health care providers, a YMCA, restaurants, a credit union, a pharmacy, higher education institutions, foundations, and nonprofits. Through projects and daily interactions with Concourse neighbors, young people make connections between academics and their own lives—all while contributing to the revitalization of Memphis. “Projects have included a partnership with a local graphic designer who helped students design logos for student-run businesses, a collaboration with a local elementary school to design a sensory walk for children, as well as a young-voter registration campaign, a sustainable shoe design effort, a virtual reality experience designed to simulate drunk driving, a student podcast project, and more.”
“There are a lot of community partnerships right here inside of this vertical urban village. We can make real-world connections with kids at a higher rate than a traditional high school would because of the proximity to a lot of really dynamic organizations.”
Theory Into Action
Student work: Students on the case
What happens when you're a school leader who finds out he has a cholesterol problem? You put your biology students on the case, of course. Working with a community partner from a local college of nursing, students produced a video with a plan to help Mr. Terrill. It worked! By following the plan, eating more vegetables, and taking the stairs, he lost over 20 pounds and his cholesterol and blood pressure returned to normal. Mr. Terrill wasn’t the only one who benefitted from this project. Students showed mastery of several of Crosstown’s core competencies and met Tennessee State Standards.
Crosstown Competencies Met
- Reason quantitatively
- Design solutions
- Sustain wellness
- Express oneself boldly
Tennessee State Standards Met
- BIO1.L33 Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits
- BIO1.ETS2 Links among Engineering, Technology, Science, and Society
4.A personalized high school experience
Students come to Crosstown High at various academic levels and from more than 60 private, public, and charter schools across Memphis. Regardless of where students come from, teachers ensure that students master key skills before moving on, using a system for tracking student progress that complements traditional letter grades. “Leading One’s Learning” is just one of 12 Crosstown competencies that drive this personalized high school experience as students grow from “emerging” learners to “college- and career-ready” graduates.
“Crosstown organizes the day into longer blocks of time where subjects are sometimes co-taught to allow for interdisciplinary projects that tie together all that students are learning in each of their classes. Community partners often play a key role in these projects. Examples include working with the Crosstown Chronicles podcast studio and Memphis Music Fellow to record and produce a podcast; partnering with a local initiative called the Ballot Project for outreach efforts to unregistered teen voters; and working with Sustainable Concourse Initiative to develop proprietary math formula to convert all the types of energy usage in the Concourse into a single universal unit that can be easily understood by residents and businesses.
Director of Competencies
"When we think about culture, it's political and sociocultural, but it's also about student interests. It's showing that we value students and we think that's important."
- 50%Free/Reduced Price Lunch
- 11%Special Education
Diverse perspectives that power project-based learning
"How active should learning be? How relevant? And what is required of adults if they are serious about expecting that kids will have a different experience—and a different feeling—in that thing we call ‘school’?" Explore these questions and more in Diverse-by-Design: Project-Based Learning, a video from local production company 180 Studios featuring Crosstown High.
"One of our aims is to help change the landscape of Memphis. We're trying to build students that are going to go out and be game-changers!"
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