Jessica Hanson ’86 helps launch a new school to unleash the voices of young women.
By Daniel Lippman '08
Jessica Hanson '86 has education in her blood. Her grandmother was an elementary school teacher, her mother was a teacher’s aide, and her aunt was a teacher, too. But nothing they faced prepared Hanson in her mission to launch an allgirls high school to help teenagers navigate a world full of new challenges—including often-toxic social media that fuels online bullying and body image issues.
The crisis of teenage girls helped inspire Hanson to co-found the Hatch School in Seattle, WA, in 2022. A small group of ninth-graders attends the new institution, and its leaders hope to increase enrollment in the coming years.
“We wanted to create a place where students could really take a step back, make the best choices for themselves, and learn to find balance in their lives,” Hanson said. “We really wanted to create an institution where students could learn to make change in their environments, in their families, in their communities—and how to own their voices, because they have really strong voices.”
Hanson says the “idea that you need to be excellent or perfect at everything is an unsustainable model,” particularly for girls. “Our goal is to help kids figure out how they can be really amazing at the things that are important to them. And simultaneously maybe not worry so much about trying to be excellent at the things that aren’t as important to them.”
Hatch is a small school with three fulltime teachers, so students learn a lot from each other. They come from a variety of backgrounds, including girls who will be first-generation college students, were born in different countries, or speak different languages.
“One of our goals is to help provide an excellent college prep education to students who are furthest from educational justice,” she said.
Because it’s a nonprofit startup, Hatch doesn’t have a deluxe campus like other private schools. They rent space from a nonprofit in downtown Seattle since “commercial real estate in Seattle is a fullcontact sport,” Hanson jokes. But she has been entrepreneurial in looking for ways for her students to learn without breaking the bank. They partner with a local fine arts center for their art program, use a neighborhood gym for strength training, and work with a school in Guatemala for online Spanish classes, where they learn about the history and culture of that country.
Hanson is also reimagining how tuition works using a concept called “family individualized tuition.” Parents pay for their student’s enrollment based on how much they can actually afford instead of feeling stressed by the high costs. The school received several significant seed money grants from private donors and is funded primarily by philanthropic giving. But the struggle to make sure they have enough money to keep the lights on “is one of the biggest challenges we face,” Hanson notes. “We are building a brand new airplane and flying it as we go.”
A Continuing Connection to Hotchkiss
Besides her family, Hanson traces her interest in education to the time she spent at Hotchkiss. She had gone to public school and didn’t know if she could fit in at a boarding school. “My mother tells me that in October I wanted to leave and go home, which I don’t have any recollection of, but she told me I had to stay until Thanksgiving,” Hanson said. She found her footing and her friend group, and just as importantly came to love spending time in the science lab under the tutelage of biology instructor Jim Morrill P’87,’89.
“My experience at Hotchkiss is filled with those small moments where my friends helped me find the confidence I needed to do an X, Y, or Z thing,” Hanson recalled.
Hanson has stayed involved in her small but mighty Hotchkiss alumni community in Seattle, where she leads the annual Day of Service. In April, Hanson and a group helped restore a habitat for salmon on the Sammamish River.
Nian Wilder ’86, P’17,’20, a Hotchkiss classmate of Hanson’s who met her on the first day of orientation and is now director of reunion giving at the School, said Hanson “is a wonderful combination of brains and personality.” Wilder added, “Having started at Hotchkiss eight years after the first group of female students arrived in Lakeville, we often felt that the all-boys-school days weren’t necessarily completely behind us. I think that spending four years in that environment armed us with the sense that we belong in any space that we occupy as women and has certainly inspired Jessica to pursue a career in education.”
After Hotchkiss, Hanson studied biology at Dartmouth College, where she tutored people who were incarcerated in New Hampshire and Vermont prisons. She then went on to get a master’s in teaching and curriculum from Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Ph.D. in microbiology from University of California, Davis. At Dartmouth, she met her husband, a computer systems engineer, and they have two kids.
Hatch is not the first school that Hanson has helped launch. More than 20 years ago, while she was busy getting her Ph.D., she carved out time to be the founding science teacher at the Oxbow School in Napa, CA, which focuses on the visual arts—often considered an elective or not central to a high school education.
“To create a school just for those students, where it was really clear that we took very seriously the thing that was most important to them, is just amazing and transformative. And I feel like at Hatch we are similarly creating a school that specifically honors the identity of adolescent girls and helps them with their unique and specific challenges,” she said.
“Education made such a huge difference in my life. And I want other people to have that.”
Daniel Lippman ’08 is a reporter covering the White House and Washington for POLITICO and can be reached at email@example.com.