The Middle school years are an important time for our children to learn more about themselves and the world around them. This is why choosing the right school is such a critical decision for many parents in NYC. Recently, Kidz Central Station toured a new middle school in Manhattan, AltSchool Union Square, and we were especially impressed by their data driven approach which truly delivers on the notion of a personalized education.
AltSchool was founded in 2013 by a former Google exec with the concept of having students actively participate in their education by setting and tracking their own goals and cooperating with teachers to shape the curriculum. The ‘future of education’ was to use collected data on the students’ learning to create a more personalized education.
And we were impressed by the data. AltSchool’s digital platform tracks everything from attendance to grades to Personalized Learning Plans (PLP). Teachers work with families and students to design the PLP, a set of goals based on the student’s interests, likes, strengths, and weaknesses. Students are supplied with a Chromebook and complete individual and group activities from a “playlist” that is customized to their needs and interests. Teachers pick activities for their students by creating items in their playlists. This then frees up the teacher to walk around the classroom and interact more with students. It’s an exciting concept merging technology and data with education; thus making parent-teacher conferences less subjective and more informed!
After initial growing pains, the AltSchool team has streamlined their vision into lab schools such as AltSchool Union Square. Opened in 2017 for grades 5-8, the school opens into a very modern, efficiently designed space with a bleachers style gathering area for morning meetings and end of week discussions. The whole school will gather here for anything from student-led presentations to teacher previews of the week. The bright, airy classrooms have nook spaces for individual learning and collaborative pods for small group learning. Each classroom is also equipped with small “phone booths” that offer students a self-imposed time-out session to re-focus. The lunch area is another open space offering kids more moments for gathering and collaborating and thinking.
The core values at AltSchool are Citizenship, Agency, Responsibility, Empathy. Students decide how to apply these ideas to their lives and the school community. They create Learner Agreements as they promise to achieve and help others achieve these values. The school follows the NY common core curriculum and complete ELA, Science, Math and History/Social Studies standards as students graduate from here to any type of high school they desire.
Currently, there are about 35 students enrolled at this location with the goal to grow to 80 students. Students can arrive as early at 8am although instruction starts at 8:30am and ends at 3:30pm. Students learn beyond the classroom through museums, NYC landmarks, and cultural sites. Physical education classes are taken at the local YMCA, music classes with Third Street Music, and Art with a teacher from the Children’s Museum of Art. A Spanish teacher comes onsite for daily classes. After school activities include chess with more options to come. Many of the students do after-school activities in the community, e.g. theater, arts, science extension programs.
Overall, we were very impressed with the facility, the active and engaged students, the friendly staff, and the technology platform. It is very popular today to talk about a whole child approach or a personalized education but very few schools are showing parents how they achieve this goal. At AltSchool, Parents are very involved in shaping their children’s education. Thanks to the data collected every day, parents can really know what their kids are doing during the day, the exact areas where they excel or need extra help, and how teachers are honoring the pledge to a personalized approach. It’s a concept for the future and many parents are embracing it.