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A Unique Education Experience To The Upper Valley: New England School of the Arts.

Jun 16, 2024 08:41PM ● By Anne Richter Arnold

In April, NESA hosted the Upper Valley Choral Festival, bringing together 50 artists from area high schools for a free opportunity to practice and perform together under the direction of acclaimed conductor and composer Stefanie Weigand. Photo by Allyson Johnson.

Many insights and innovations in education have come out of the pandemic experience, and in the Upper Valley, a new independent high school is one of those. The New England School of the Arts (NESA) in Lebanon is scheduled to open its doors to day students grades 9 through 12 in the fall of 2024. As the only private school for the arts in the Upper Valley, NESA will provide up to 100 students with immersive arts experiences in a college preparatory setting that focuses on each student’s interests and life goals.


Academics Merge with the Arts

What sets NESA apart from traditional educational programs is the STEAM—science, technology, engineering, arts, and math—centered curriculum. Through collaboration with educators, parents, and students, NESA’s classes are focused on the individual student’s needs and interests. Whether a student is interested in a nursing career and loves making pottery or a musician with a goal to attend Julliard, each NESA student will find a unique opportunity to achieve their goals. Academics and the arts merge through a personalized course of study that can include collaborations with the school’s community partners to gain career and artistic experience.

NESA’s founders Jennifer and Carl Chambers have been active in the Northern New England arts and education communities since 2008. But the pandemic is really what inspired starting the school, says Jennifer. “The idea for NESA started when the pandemic hit and everything went remote,” she says. “We saw the arts suffered because much is done in person and it has also been an area that, when funding is limited, it gets cut first. My husband and I realized that we wanted to launch something where the arts were the focus. We wanted to create a school where the kids would be out from their desks, away from screens, in a collaborative setting that focused on the individual, with a STEAM curriculum.”

Educator Alexis Schleicher has worked in private elementary schools and public high schools, museums, and has taught English, social studies, and a Flexible Pathways course at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vermont. She will be teaching humanities at NESA. “My background in individualizing students’ learning paths prepares me well for the integrated STEAM curriculum that focuses on each student’s interests and goals. This kind of educational style gives the educators so much more flexibility to try new things and create a learning program that is just not possible in more traditional school settings. It is what sets NESA apart.”

Alexis continues, “Integrated curriculum is something that many people do not understand because it is not something that is generally present or possible in a traditional educational setting. For example, if the topic of study was World War II, all of the educators, from art to math, would base their classwork on this theme and work together to create a cohesive curriculum. Most students are siloed, moving from social studies to math and so on, but without any connection between what they are learning in each subject. What NESA does is carry the theme throughout all the classes, which reinforces the knowledge on the subject.”

Partnering with the Community

Based in downtown Lebanon on what Jennifer calls a “city campus,” the school will utilize classrooms as well as art venues that are normally unoccupied during the day. The school itself is centrally located at 9 Hanover Street off the Lebanon Mall, and the campus, bordered by the city’s central green, offers rich collaborative learning experiences through NESA’s community partnerships with area arts organizations. Students can experience dance at Lebanon Ballet School, visual arts at the AVA Gallery and Arts Center, performances and stage craft at the Lebanon Opera House, STEM-oriented learning at River Valley Community College, and physical education at the Carter Community Building Association (CCBA).

NESA has had a summer program for elementary and middle school–aged children and will continue this in the summer of 2024. Besides opening for the 2024–25 academic year in the fall, NESA will have an after-school enrichment program that is open to all students, including at public schools and homeschoolers.

Starting a new arts-centered program, when funding overall has diminished, could have been a challenge. NESA is made possible by generous local philanthropists and individual donors who believe that everyone should be able to access the transformative power of the arts. For this year’s summer camp, NESA has been able to accommodate all financial aid requests and hopes to be able to for next year.

“We want NESA to be a part of the community that supports students who are interested in exploring the arts as well as STEM subjects,” says Jennifer. “We are so lucky to be in a place where our partners can help provide the space for students to receive an education that fosters individualized learning opportunities for collaboration, expression, and personal growth.” 

New England School of the Arts

9 Hanover Street

Lebanon, NH

(603) 277-9795

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