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Timeline of Nova Building Switches

    In 1970 a group of students, parents, and teachers determined in creating a free and independent Seattle school, rented out the basement of the downtown YMCA and thus The Nova Project was born! Students received credit by fulfilling self-written contracts, attendance was not required, and much of the learning process occurred outside the classroom. Then, in 1975 Nova joined another alternative learning program, the Garfield Alternative Project (GAP), in the Horace Mann building (where it currently resides). The building at the time was not particularly nice. It was small and there were only two phones in the entire building. In 2001 Nova introduced their tech plan, meaning computers and computer programs were integrated into the learning experience. Nova operated in the Mann building until the 2008/09 school year. They then moved to the Meany building after the district decided to close the Mann building, along with many other schools indefinitely due to a drop in school enrollment. 

    Nova and the World School moved into the Meany building in 2009, when Meany Middle School closed. Many people refer to this building as “the old building” or “old nova.” The Meany building had many advantages: it was bigger (meaning it had an actual gym, lunchroom, and a field outside) and its location was more central, meaning more street kids could attend Nova. Unfortunately, the building was also long overdue for renovation and repair. The roof was so poorly constructed that if an earthquake would have happened the building would have collapsed, crushing and trapping the students below. It was also poorly lit and kinda gross. On top of all this, the size of the school made supervising students more difficult, resulting in more students skipping class and people intoxicating themselves on or very close to campus more frequently. At the same time students felt a sense of freedom and comradery in this building, they felt truly free and like they could do as they pleased.

    Then in the early 2010s, when enrollment began to rise again, plans for renovation began. The city started planning renovations to take place in September of 2013. At this time there was quite a bit of opposition to Nova returning to this building. In the years before renovation but post Nova, many community groups including the Seattle Amistad School and the AfricaTown Center for Education and Innovation were operating from within the building. The former is a private bilingual elementary school and the latter is a group trying to create an educational space for young people of color. AfricaTown was a part of a bigger movement called More For Mann, which pressured the district to turn the historic Mann building into a community hub for young people of color--not a school. The Umoja Peace Center (UPC), who already led programs for POC youth out of a house in the central district, aimed to work with the AfricaTown Center, to create a hub for young POCs inside the central district, a historically black neighborhood. Both organizations felt like they needed a big space in order to make the difference they wanted to make. The Mann building was large, central, and unoccupied: a perfect target location.

    The More For Mann movement complained that the Seattle Public education system was whitewashed, discriminatory, set up to favor white kids, and their complaints were backed by the statistics. To this day Seattle Public Schools has the fifth worst opportunity gap between white and black students in the nation. AfricaTown in particular wanted to create a new “African-American Academy,” after all the district had closed the old African-American Academy along with the Mann building. A quote from the Africatown’s leader Omari Garrett reads “I had to teach these kids black history, but first I had to teach them human history. They had to feel human before they could start to find their black identity.” Despite the superintendent of SPS emailing AfricaTown, praising their "innovative work and programs," the organization was asked to evacuate the building so the district could renovate, preparing it for Nova. Most of the coalition members packed their things and left. But, four members of AfricaTown barricaded themselves in the building, and began living there. The SPD received unsubstantiated “intel” that there was a sniper on the roof and explosives planted in the building, though it was later discovered there was no weapons on the premises. As a matter of fact, the only retaliation the police department faced was Garrett yelling down from a top window that he wouldn’t come down and talk to them until they had the proper warrant. Regardless, dozens of armed cops wandered around the building, a SWAT team was on standby, and the entire block was blocked off. AfricaTown occupied the Mann building for five months, before being arrested for criminal trespassing and quickly released. AfricaTown Center for Education and Development is now a partner with SPS and is located at 3100 S. Alaska St, Seattle, 98108.

    The Mann building was fully remodeled and student ready by the 2015/16 school year. These renovations included a new wing on the north side of the building where the art room, science lab, and band room are located (along with Debbie, Tristan, Bryan, Mark, Akil, and Lance’s rooms), a brand new elevator, new bathrooms on all three floors, a new asphalt parking lot on the east side of the building, and Historical Landmark status. Students could no longer draw and write all over the walls, a Nova tradition. We can’t even drill into the walls to hang stuff up! This kind of stiff demeanor was off-putting to many students. Those who attended the “old Nova” felt trapped, nervous, unsure if traditions and the general air of “we don’t give a fuck” would continue or if Nova would follow in the building’s footsteps, becoming stiffer, stricter, more uptight.

    Two and a half years later Nova is still operating from the Mann building, and honestly I feel like the building adds a lot of character to the school. Just because we aren’t allowed to paint on the walls doesn’t mean our creativity has been squashed, it just means we have to draw on paper, or canvas, or an old record before putting it up. When I interviewed Debbie for what eventually became this project I asked her if she thought nova had changed for the better during her time working here, she responded “Someone used to say, ‘there was no golden age of Nova,’ and I like that expression of how even though people make statements all the time about how Nova has gotten better or worse, really we are just The Nova Project--a movement of change.” Regardless of your personal views on Nova you have to admit, we are resilient as hell.