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For Alumna, Distinct Approach to Education Is Definitely Elementary
Oct. 11, 2018
Jill Guthrie BA’85 (left) founded The Guthrie School where she works with daughter Meredith Guthrie BS’14. Meredith is a kindergarten teacher and the director of enrichment at the school.
A few miles north of The University of Texas at Dallas, there is another school that prides itself on taking an innovative approach to education. The Guthrie School, founded in 2013 by Jill Guthrie BA’85, offers students from preschool through sixth grade a distinct learning environment, encouraging active engagement, personal expression, critical thinking and dialogue.
“Our teachers encourage students to engage and speak their minds,” Guthrie said. “They learn a higher level of analysis as opposed to just recognizing if the answer is A, B, C or D.”
The Allen, Texas, school educates students using the Harkness Method, which emphasizes dialogue among students, their teachers and peers. To facilitate discussion and maximize the attention each student receives, Guthrie keeps class sizes small and equips classrooms with custom-built oval tables that allow teachers to conduct Socratic-style lessons.
“We get the best view of the child from hearing what they have to say,” she said. “Encouraging that rapport and engagement is what we are all about.”
Along with a curriculum that boasts multiple language offerings and extracurricular activities, including a UT Dallas coding club, the school provides ample opportunity for creative expression through the arts and promotes scientific investigation in a dedicated lab. The school, which enrolls about 100 students, also helps to ensure their well-being through a healthy lunch program and regular “brain breaks” — brief recesses that include physical activities.
Guthrie attributes her educational philosophy to her research experience at UT Dallas and lessons from her grandmother.
“My grandmother was born in 1889. She only had an eighth-grade education, but she was brilliant,” she said. “I learned so many things from her verbal lessons and stories, and that has inspired my view on the value of speaking to people. It is important to engage with human beings. That is how we learn tolerance, care and understanding. You learn how to be a good person.”
“I am really proud of UTD and how it has continued to focus on educational excellence and attracting the best professors. The University is critical in addressing the needs of the broader North Texas community.”
Although Guthrie earned her degree in English literature with a minor in mathematics, she fondly remembers her time conducting psychology research with Dr. Walter Dowling, professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS), and Dr. James Bartlett, Ashbel Smith Professor and interim dean of BBS.
“The method of research I learned there was fascinating and still influences our approach at The Guthrie School,” she said. “I learned about how we learn, how the brain learns. I still am curious about this field today. We really try to use the best practices here for our students.”
Guthrie’s Comet connections run deep. She’s the mother of two alumni — Sam Guthrie BA’10 and Meredith Guthrie BS’14. Her daughter has worked at The Guthrie School since its founding and serves as a kindergarten teacher and the director of enrichment.
As a student, an alumna and a parent, Jill Guthrie has watched UT Dallas develop into the top-tier national research institution it is today. She is grateful for the University’s presence in the local community.
“I am really proud of UTD and how it has continued to focus on educational excellence and attracting the best professors,” she said. “The University is critical in addressing the needs of the broader North Texas community. UT Dallas needs to be the big school in the area. Not necessarily big in numbers, but big in impact.”
Guthrie sees synergy between the values espoused by UT Dallas and her school.
“We train students on how to be involved and empower them to speak up for what they think is right,” she said. “We are trying to teach them to be active citizens. We want them to leave here and go make a positive impact and give back to their communities.
“Teaching, to me, is home. That is what I love.”