First class at CityLab High School has different kind of orientation event


Last week’s freshman orientation for Dallas ISD’s CityLab High School was no ordinary orientation, but then the school itself is beyond ordinary.

Opening this fall, CityLab is Dallas ISD’s newest transformation school. The curriculum will focus on components of architecture, urban planning, environmental science and community development while taking advantage of its downtown setting to bring lessons to life.

One day last week, about 100 students were at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library

learning about prototypes and why they are important in the design, manufacturing and marketing process. The “Makers Space,” coordinated by SMU, put students into groups to choose an object and recreate a prototype with a variety of odds and ends in 20 minutes or less. Then, the students provided feedback on each others’ projects. Students also visited a mobile Makers Space parked outside.

In a nearby room, another group of students were providing input on a mural that will be created at the school by Dallas-based Sour Grapes.

Orientation is a sure sign that the new school will open soon. “This is why we do it. We feed off their excitement, their energy,” Principal Tammy Underwood said. “It pushes me to want to be a better principal.”

The excitement has been building for some time for the new school.

“This is our prototype for what our school should be like,” she said of orientation. “We want to meet the high expectations. We want them all four years.”

Besides the help from SMU and Sour Grapes at orientation, forming partnerships is already an important part of CityLab.

The advantages of the downtown campus also offer a few challenges. The school is not far from The Bridge, an organization that provides services and care for homeless Dallas residents. Sam Merten, Chief Operating Officer of The Bridge, and a representative from the Dallas Police Department talked to students about developing “street smarts” to stay safe while at school.

ASIS International, an association of security management professionals, recently awarded a $22,000 grant to CityLab to pay for upgrades to the school’s camera system, access control system and classroom intercoms. In addition to the grant, Axis Communications is donating new cameras and accessories.

Student Charles Green, who attended Thomas Edison Middle School last year, said he is attending CityLab because he wants to eventually start his own architectural business. “I want to learn about all of it,” Green said. “I want to have others find their special skills and work together to live our dreams.”

Emily Maldonado, who is gong to CityLab after attending Zan Holmes Middle School last year, said she was wanted to experience something different. Helping to establish a new school meets that need.

“I wanted to meet new people,” Maldonado said. “It’s exciting to be in the first class that will graduate from CityLab.”

K.C. Vong. attended Dealey Montessori/International Academy last year. “I really like that I’ll be one of the 97 people to help build a school,” she said. “It’s really interesting, a brand-new school.” Although she intends to pursue a career in marketing and advertising, the experience will help her along the way.

Learn more about CityLab, which is housed in the district’s Pegasus Building at 912 S. Ervay St., at


About Author

Connecting you to the personalities, places and perspectives of Dallas ISD