The New ClassroomA look at nontraditional and experimental school models.
By: Meital Gewirtz , Sibley Scribe
In ISD197 schools, like most schools around the United States, we learn in a traditional classroom setting. In our school there is one teacher standing in front of a class of thirty or so kids sitting in rows of desks. However, not all schools around America do this. According to a recent article by David Brookes in the New York Times, this traditional teaching model has been for the most part unchanged since it developed in Prussia (now part of Germany) 200 years ago. He goes onto say that evidence suggests that it may be time to experiment with new and more effective ways of teaching.
Imagine a school that is a combination of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry ; Waldorf Schools – a humanist school movement designed to educate the whole child – and Phillips Exeter Academy, a very exclusive private school in New Hampshire. A school in which students are split into houses, and where people sit together at large tables instead of in individual desks, and the same teachers move up with a grade, teaching that grade year after year. These are exactly the changes that have been implemented at the New American Academy in Brooklyn. The principal responsible for these changes is Shimon Waronker, a former US Army Intelligence Officer, who was trained in New York City Leadership Academy, an institute founded by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Joe Klein to train potential new principals.
Shimon Waronker established the New American Academy in the South Bronx with 126 students, and the plan is to increase each year until it includes grades one through five. Nearly ¼ of these students have emotional, physical or learning disabilities, and the school has a large population of students living in poverty. Nearly 1/3 of them were not at reading level in first grade.
The New American School is a less structured and yet still manages to have better control of students than other, more conventional schools. This is achieved through subtle strategies such as pretending that there are imaginary doors they have to go through single-file to get from one classroom to the next. In this model, a class of approximately sixty kids is in one large room with four teachers, one of which is the lead teacher, and paraprofessionals. The students sit at large tables instead of at individual desks, and they are supposed to learn from each other and cooperate instead of being isolated and separated. This applies to the teachers too, who have over an hour and a half of collaboration time per day, and ask for help without hesitation if they need it. They all work together. A combination of factors means that students and teachers have a more personal relationship than in an average school.
So do our schools have something to learn from this one? Will this be part of education “reform” in the coming years? As this program has only just been instituted it may be best to wait until we see clear results as to how well it has worked. But who knows? We may see this in practice soon.