Graduate directs school for kids

Jill Guthrie graduated from UTD with a B.A. in 1985 and has since gone on to found a private school centered around discussion-based learning. Photo by Madeline Ambrose | Mercury Staff.


A few miles north of campus, a UTD alumna founded a private school centered around discussion-based learning. The school is now celebrating its five-year anniversary.

Attending UTD during her junior and senior years, Jill Guthrie, who graduated with a B.A. in 1985, heavily participated in psychology and neuroscience research. Though she earned her degree in English with a minor in mathematics, Guthrie said her supplemental research in psychology influenced her founding of the private institution.

“I took a lot of psychology classes that I loved, and I learned about research. It was really interesting because it dealt with how the brain worked and how we learn,” Guthrie said. “That was really impactful on my outlook on growth and learning.”

Implemented by over 200 schools, the Harkness method of education, a form of learning that involves multiple students sitting in an oval table to encourage and facilitate discussion, is central to learning at The Guthrie School.

“I believe in that very strongly. We use it to promote discourse and discussion in a very safe setting where children are encouraged to express their ideas,” Guthrie said.

She attributed her research skills at UTD as a contributing factor to her founding of The Guthrie School and the establishment of its values.

“UTD gave me the skills to do research at higher level. Even though I wasn’t very interested in going into a research-based field, scientific research translates into a school environment because you learn to look at individuals and the way they think,” Guthrie said.

Guthrie’s ties with UTD still remain intact, as many of the children attending The Guthrie School are children of alumni.

Shajie Fang, a UTD alumna who came to the university as an international student in 2010 to major in finance, currently has two children at The Guthrie School.

“I know Mrs. Guthrie is very busy, but from the limited contact that I have had with her, I would describe her with one word — passion,” Fang said. “That is why we have decided to enroll our students at The Guthrie School.”

Mary Hearty, the associate director of the school, said Guthrie’s leadership was a deciding factor in joining its staff after Hearty had retired from her previous job.

“Once I sat in on Mrs. Guthrie’s class, I was just sold,” Hearty said. “I was back in the game here.”
Guthrie said she learned that the reputation of UTD as a research institution doesn’t hinder the artistic aspects of the university.

“None of us in my family did the typical tech thing that UTD is known for,” Guthrie said. “So we epitomize the other side of UTD, which is the arts.”

Hearty said Guthrie’s attention to detail and personalized approach to education benefits the school’s students.

“Out of the several things about her, what I noticed is that she looks at each and every child and says, ‘What can I do to allow this child to reach his or her full potential?’” Hearty said. “She has the vision, and we follow.”


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