Two New York Schools: Two Distinct Approaches to 21st Century Learning

Kathy Kealey Visits the Blue School and the Avenues School

BlueSchoolNYC_Feb2016-8011This past February, Assistant Head of School and Director of Junior School, Kathy Kealey, had the opportunity to visit two schools in New York City that have their own unique take on 21st Century education.

One of these schools was the Blue School. In 2006, the Founders of the famed Blue Man Group took it upon themselves to open a school in Lower Manhattan that challenges students to unleash their powers of discovery, investigation, and creativity. Since 1988, the Blue Man Group has inspired audiences around the world with their sense of childlike wonder and creativity. Replicating this same approach, in addition to their academic curriculum, students aged two through thirteen are asked to come up with new ways to improve recycling, create 3D models of the city, and even look at ways to fix home appliances.

In 2011, the Avenues School opened its campus in New York City. The 15-grade institution is the first of a worldwide system of 20 or more independent schools to open over the next decade in major cities around the globe, such as Shanghai, London, Mumbai, São Paulo, Johannesburg, Abu Dhabi, and Sydney. Connected by a common vision and shared curriculum, Avenues’ worldwide network of campuses are focused on preparing students for a much smaller and interconnected world. Located in a 10-story, 215,000 square foot landmark building in the Chelsea neighbourhood, in addition to delivering an exceptional academic program, the Avenues School is also committed to offering a global perspective on subjects such as history, geography, and world issues.

What inspired you about visiting these schools?
It is inspiring to visit other schools, meet passionate educators, and look for similarities and differences in school facilities as well in their approach to education. There is always one constant and that is the children in our schools. No matter what the school, children all have the same curiosity and drive to learn.

I loved the maker spaces that were evident in both the Blue School and the Avenues School. I know our students would really enjoy having a designated space to create, discover, and show their learning in different ways.

Were there any similarities with what we are already doing at York House?
There were definitely similarities. In particular, there were similarities with the Blue School and our Reggio inspired program at the Little School. What I saw at the Blue School were those tenets of the Reggio philosophy intentionally present in every  grade.  

The Avenues School believes that to be a global citizen, students must be fluent in at least one other language.  For that reason, all the students from nursery (three years old)  to Grade 4 spend 50% of their day immersed in another language,either Spanish or Mandarin.  At York House, students become fluent in French and we have a thriving after school Mandarin program in the Junior School.

What were some of the biggest differences that you noticed?
Because they are in New York City, the Blue School and the Avenues School are each in multiple  story buildings. There are tiny playgrounds on the rooftops without grass and trees. Perhaps one of the biggest differences I noticed was the amount of light coming into the buildings. I feel our new Senior School is the gold standard and nothing I’ve seen compares to the natural light pouring into this building.

What do you think would inspire them if they were to visit York House?
I think they would be inspired by our facilities, in particular the new Senior School building. They would also love our Little School with its huge garden and outdoor classroom. They would also be very impressed by its Reggio inspired program.

Was there something that really spoke to our new strategic directions that we will be working towards in 2016?
Definitely. These schools are teaching innovation, collaboration, and creative thinking.  Their project-based, inquiry approach in not only aligned to our new strategic directions but also to the new BC curriculum. York House is already engaging in this approach and great things are taking place at different grade levels and in different classrooms. However, to see entire schools purposely designed for this type of learning and to see this approach completely integrated, as is the the case of the Blue School, was very exciting.

What was your biggest takeaway from these schools?
That all that we are working towards at YHS is possible. There are schools already working in this way in NYC so why can’t we? Another takeaway was how fortunate we are to have the outdoor space that we do have at YHS. These schools are running amazing programs with a fraction of the space; imagine what we could do with ours.

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