Located in Northwest Arkansas, Thaden School spans 30 acres and features several sleek modern classroom buildings with large green spaces in between for students to lounge and learn. It looks more like a small college than the private middle and high school it actually is.
Despite its large campus and striking architecture, the 4-year-old academy is quietly tucked away behind downtown Bentonville’s popular main streets. The plan is for Thaden to become more well-known in the coming years, not just in Bentonville, but across the state, throughout the United States and even beyond.
The woman who plans to do it is Director of Institutional Advancement Adora Curry. She is one of Thaden’s newest additions. Barely two months in, she’s already dreaming of making the school a household name across the nation.
“Goal one is to build a robust advancement department here,” she said. “I want the community to want to be engaged and to become engaged with Thaden School. There are so many businesses here that could serve many important purposes.”
Some of Curry’s ideas include students shadowing local professionals at work, classroom guest speakers from the community and school events hosted by outside businesses. She wants to start with Bentonville and then gradually reach out further to other communities.
“I want people to say, ‘What’s happening there? What makes that school so special?’”
Curry noted that Thaden is special because everyone at the school is invested in the success of its students. She plans on showing the school’s uniqueness through various community events in which the school can interact with the outside public. This involves getting to know the interests of people in the area and coming up with activities centered on those interests. One idea is a skeet shooting tournament that (weather permitting) will be held in January 2022.
Curry also plans to continue leaning into Thaden’s signature programs: Meals, Reels and Wheels. The three intensives provide independent and community-based learning in culinary, performing arts and bicycle engineering. She wants to continue promoting events that highlight these features.
In the spring, Thaden will host a culinary event focused on the culinary program. Curry is hoping to partner with local chefs and bring the public in to eat and appreciate food prepared by students with ingredients from the campus garden — perhaps something like the TV show Chopped where student teams would compete against each other.
“Community is a large focus for us,” Curry emphasized. “We want to extend that to the entire Bentonville community and then hopefully even broaden our reach nationally and be one of those independent schools that the rest of the nation is looking at and wanting to follow our model.”
Curry arrived at her job at Thaden with a long list of diverse credentials. Her 18 years of experience in the nonprofit sector includes being an event planner, marketer, motivational speaker, recruiter and a “champion for the marginalized” —– all of which fall perfectly into place in her new role. Advocating for marginalized individuals is a particular passion for Curry.
Growing up in Colorado, Curry was often one of only three or four black students in her communities. She was bullied in middle school and later ended up in a domestic situation that turned violent in her young adult years. She is also a single mother.
“I know what it feels like to not have a voice and feel powerless and to feel like you don’t matter,” she said. “So, when I have been able to bounce back from my experiences, I have looked back at others who are living through it, and I share what I went through as a source of encouragement and empowerment for them.”
Her experiences make her an ideal leader at Thaden. Between growing up in Colorado and her years spent living in Little Rock and Washington, D.C., Curry has met people from all walks of life. Some of them have needed financial help and encouragement. Others have been in positions to impact and empower others. Curry’s talent lies in bringing the two groups together.
“It’s a perfect fit for me here at Thaden because our youth today have a lot to deal with,” she said, noting that some of those challenges include cyberbullying, mental health issues, economic adversity, lack of parental involvement and more. She enjoys having the opportunity to hear about students’ interests and aspirations and then talking to instructors and the head of the school to make those experiences a reality.
Language studies at Thaden, for example, go a step beyond the traditional foreign language requirement. Thaden not only offers Latin and Mandarin, but it also offers partnerships with other countries around the world for students to immerse themselves in speaking with foreign families or visiting them on exchange programs.
“I think that’s what makes a difference and gives people a better quality of life,” Curry said. “I think back to when I was bullied in 7th grade. These experiences can change a person from being a victim into an empowered person who is focused on better things. The student sizes here are small, and you’re truly surrounded by people who accept you for you — exactly as you are. That’s what attracts me to working here. As a society, we put labels on people, but don’t all kids need to be empowered?”
Thaden School operates on an indexed scale that puts tuition within reach for families of various economic backgrounds.
“There’s a lot going on in the world. There’s a lot of divisiveness, and I feel that Thaden is really doing its part to be a remedy to that, and I like that their approach to it is not that anybody is wrong but that everybody should listen,” she said. “That’s what gives me pride in working here and what makes me want to make sure that this department succeeds and that this school is not a school where the best two get to go. Everybody gets to go.”
Curry moved from Little Rock to Northwest Arkansas just days before her first day of work. She is enjoying exploring the area with her two sons. As a self-described “big foodie,” she likes taking her boys to try new eateries throughout the region. One of their favorite quick stops has become Fruitealicious in Bentonville. They’ve made it a family tradition to grab a drink and then drive an hour or two exploring the outskirts.
Along the way they’ve visited new restaurants, farmers markets and have even tried ramen at a co-op during one of their adventures.
“I love that everybody is really friendly here.” Curry noted. “I love how big but small it is. There’s a lot to do, and there’s a lot going on. I love that it’s quaint, but at the same time, it’s diverse.”