Massachusetts · School Talk

Somerville Welcomes New XQ Super School: Powderhouse Studios

This piece originally ran at Education Post here

A big congratulations is in order for the city of Somerville, Massachusetts who recently learned they will be the home of an XQ Super School that has a unique vision for turning the traditional high school model right on its head.

The school will be called Powderhouse Studios and they just won $10 million to make it all happen. Powderhouse will be a project-based, year-round school serving 200 students in grades 8 through 12. The school day will run from 10 am until 5 pm, a schedule that aligns very well with the body of research around the optimal start times for high school aged-students.

The founders, who run an education nonprofit called Sprout & Co., believe that the traditional school model has left far too many students disconnected and frustrated by school. The goal is to honor and capitalize on the different ways in which students learn.

One of the team leaders, Alec Resnick, explains:

If we do our jobs, it will offer young people an opportunity to do real work which matters to them in an environment whose design is inspired by the lessons the real world offers us about the best conditions for creative work. It sounds simple when you just say, ‘Young people will be able to work on meaningful projects and grow,’ but there’s a lot of complexity hidden behind that.

Boston Magazine highlighted the school’s design:

Students involved in the program…will have an art studio and other resources at their disposal, and will forgo regular classroom learning to work on a series of projects in teams. Instead of learning from teachers, they will work with project managers, curriculum developers, and social workers.

Powderhouse Studios plans to serve a population of students where 81 percent come from low-income families and more than a quarter have special needs. Social-emotional support is also a central component of the school’s design and the designers’ intentionality around that will be vital given the high-need population the school has committed to serve.


The XQ Super School Project, headed by philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs and chief executive officer Russlynn Ali, provided the opportunity for teams from all over the country to submit proposals with plans of new ways to do high school. After an year-long application and evaluation process, 10 winners were announced.

Powell Jobs said of the effort:

The system was created for the work force we needed 100 years ago. Things are not working the way we want it to be working. We’ve seen a lot of incremental changes over the last several years, but we’re saying, ‘Start from scratch.

When asked where and why the idea for the Super School Project originated, Ali explained it like this:

We want to make high schools back into the great equalizers they were meant to be. The point is not to have some predetermined outcome. The hunger for change is real, and we’re offering up the tools to communities to make it happen.

So congratulations to the Powderhouse Studios team, the city of Somerville, and the students and school district of Somerville as they embark on the journey of turning this remarkable award into a game changer for Somerville students and perhaps even the high school landscape as a whole.

We know one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to school and Powderhouse will play a vital role in reaching kids who need a different way to realize their full potential as students and as citizens.


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