In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 30 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Stanton Stephens. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.
Amanda Newton fidgets with her hands on the stage of Denton's Banter Bistro, trying to explain why she's there, why everyone is there. "Thank you for all of the student art you've purchased and silent auctions you have bid on," Newton, 31, tells the crowd. "We need to prepare for the 22 students we're going to have next year, so we need supplies and a new location to host the kids."
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Then she starts singing. Her band, a '40s jazz- and pop-inspired rock outfit called The Treelines, fills whatever silence her voice doesn't, and you start to think that there are more hours in her day than there are yours.
In 2012, Newton, who grew up near Denton and studied behavioral science at UNT, began babysitting for her neighbors' two autistic children. But the parents had bigger plans: Frustrated by the local public school, they joined with another family and approached Newton about starting a small Montessori-style private school. Newton, not a parent herself, helped develop the curriculum for the six-student private school, to be housed in one of the family's living rooms.
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They started with only four students. Word spread and they quickly admitted two more, and that became Koan School, the school Newton's band is playing for tonight. At the beginning of each term, Newton sits down with the children individually and asks about their goals and interests before tailoring their curriculum. Two of the students said they would eventually like to attend Dallas ISD's arts magnet, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, so Newton and the staff are working to prepare them for that. Their eventual goal is to open an arts magnet school in Denton.
First things first, though: a new space. Denton's Hilltop Montessori School recently shut down its elementary program, which sent parents scrambling to Koan. They'll enroll 22 students for the upcoming school year, and word is still spreading. Newton plans to take the summer to plan out elementary- and middle-school curricula and to search for a new space, which she'll have to squeeze in among a weekly vegan potluck at her home, band practice and shows with The Treelines, and straight-up fun she cultivates for Denton, like water balloon fights in the park.
"It's like having a garden and watching it grow, except the plants talk back to you and tell you that your jokes aren't funny," Newton says of the life she stumbled into. "They help keep your heart young, and that's the only way to have fun."