New York

End of an era as iSchool's first graduates are told to 'go and do'

Former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein speaks at iSchool's graduation on Monday. Principal Alisa Berger is on the stage to Klein's right. In May 2009, the Department of Education launched a new initiative, NYC21C, to remake the American high school using technology. Then-Chancellor Joel Klein made the announcement at the NYC iSchool, then completing its first year, and praised its students and co-principals, Alisa Berger and Mary Moss. Now, all of those people have moved on. Klein left the Department of Education in November 2010 and now earns more than $4 million a year running the education division of a multinational corporation. Moss left last year when her family moved to North Carolina. Berger's family is relocating to Massachusetts this summer. And on Monday, members of the school's inaugural class graduated in an afternoon ceremony, featuring a speech by Klein, held at the Ethical Culture Society on the Upper West Side. This fall, they'll enroll at colleges and universities up and down the East Coast. "Our greatest hope is that you love college, that you discover something you love learning about, that what you love to do is something that makes the world better, even in small ways, and that you find fulfillment in your life," said Moss, who returned to see the school's first students graduate. Of the 100 students who entered the selective school in 2008, 94 graduated on time. "I ask that you go and do — that you take what you've learned at the iSchool to transform the colleges you attend and create communities for yourselves the way that you have created the iSchool," Berger told the graduates.
New York

City schools tour aims to spur democratic education elsewhere

iSchool students taking part in a Model United Nations class that the IDEA tour visited Ammerah Saidi, a program coordinator with Detroit Future Schools, meandered in and out of classrooms in the iSchool one morning last week. She had her pick of classes to observe – classes such as "Sixteen," a course designed around the question of what it means to be 16 in New York City, and Cartography, where students creatively mapped their hearts and fictional worlds. Saidi was one of nearly 30 educators, advocates, and consultants from across the country and world taking part in a two-day, three-borough tour of schools and programs that promote democratic education. “To hear about student-centeredness is one thing, but to feel it is something different,” Saidi said later in the day. “I love being reminded that it should be about the students at all times.” That getting up close and personal with democratic modes of schooling is likely to inspire educators to change their practice is the theory behind the Institute for Democratic Education in America's "Innovation Tours" of city schools. Inspired by an Israeli organization, IDEA promotes the vision that students and communities should be democratically invested in their schools. To get educators to sign on, the group exposes them to democratic models of schooling in action. The goal of each Innovation Tour, which IDEA co-founders Dana Bennis and Jonah Canner lead, is for participants to walk away with ideas about how to broaden participation in their own communities — and then to implement those ideas, with IDEA's help. “We’re not just creating a certain school and modeling it and building it out around the country,” said Bennis, now IDEA’s director of research and programs. “This is about communities coming together and asking: What are our goals for education? What do we want to achieve?” During last week's tour, the group's third since its founding in 2010, participants visited the iSchool, a centerpiece of the Department of Education's Innovation Zone, and Urban Academy, the alternative high school on the Upper East Side whose students demonstrate proficiency through presentations and projects instead of Regents exams. They heard the principal of Brooklyn's P.S. 28 describe her vision for a school that helps everyone in the community, not just the students who are enrolled. And they saw how The Point, a community group in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, works with new schools, develops green spaces, and provides outlets for creativity.
New York

iSchool students win contest to turn surfaces into whiteboards

Students Marek Smolenski and Alexis Lamb and iSchool teacher Christina Jenkins listen as they learn they have won IdeaPaint's whiteboard contest. A school that prides itself on being at the cutting edge of innovation is bringing back a standby of the 20th-century classroom. Students at the iSchool, the Manhattan high school that is a showpiece for the Department of Education's Innovation Zone, learned today that they won a contest to have the school's multipurpose room transformed into a giant whiteboard. Within weeks, they'll be able to use dry-erase markers to jot down ideas on the walls and tables of the fifth-floor "commons" — an open space that students and teachers use as a lounge, meeting space, study hall, and classroom. "I'm actually speechless. I have no idea what to say here," senior Marek Smolenski told Bob Munroe, the CEO of IdeaPaint, which typically outfits office space with surfaces meant to facilitate creative collaboration. The company picked two schools to make over from more than 30 applicants from across the country. Christina Jenkins, an iSchool teacher who bought IdeaPaint for her classroom with donations last year, said the temporary nature of whiteboard writing encourages ideas to flow more readily. For students who might worry about making mistakes, "paper can be more intimidating," she said, pointing to a wall in her room where students had jotted down ideas for their senior projects. Smolenski said students already used the dry-erase tables for brainstorming sessions and peer essay editing in Jenkins's design and creative thinking classes, which include cartography, comic book design, and disaster relief. "It's not ordinary paper," said Alexis Lamb, one of the students who put together the school's contest entry video, posted below. "Plus, kids just like writing on the tables, I think."