Volume 74, Number 19 | September 02 - 09 , 2004

Stretching the traditional classroom’s boundaries

By Judith Stiles

Getting the jitters in anticipation of starting high school is not unusual for most teenagers at this time of year. The first day of freshman year is enough to get those stomach butterflies churning for just about any teen, except 14-year-old Reid Daniels, who is not nervous, but rather delighted to be starting high school at The School of The Future.

Having completed three years at the School of the Future’s adjunct middle school in the same building on 127 E. 22nd St., the incoming students are already a strong community of familiar faces and a home away from home for Daniels. When asked what his most memorable experience in middle school was, the young Village resident enthusiastically recounted the excitement of holding a mock trial that addressed freedom of the press in his humanities class. “It was over a period of several months and it was really interesting,” recounted Daniels as he described how some students dressed in long robes as Supreme Court justices, while others wore suits and ties to school to portray the attorneys.

“It was a fictitious case that we pretended was brought all the way to the Supreme Court by the ‘Denver Dispatch,’ regarding when freedom of the press might be in conflict with national security. We researched many relevant cases in history and presented reports on them and discussed how they applied to our case. It was great,” added Daniels, his rapid-fire speech full of excitement. On the School Of The Future Web site it describes how “learning is not an observant sport,” reflecting why the school so successfully taught Constitutional law, history, expository writing, public speaking and grammar by having the students participate in the drama of court proceedings. Why cram students’ brains with mountains of information, or facts and figures that the students then regurgitate during test time, only to have that information wear off like Novocain within in a matter of months?

School of the Future believes that testing is important and has its place in academia, but in order to pass certain courses, a student must present a “portfolio,” which is an extensive written and oral presentation on a subject, that is reviewed and judged by the faculty, reminiscent of thesis presentations in graduate school. 

In New York City public schools, at the start of sixth grade students have left the bosom of lower school and are often cut loose in the city without their familiar anchors, such as having one teacher for all their courses and years of familiar classmates and surroundings. In their new life they often travel far to school by public transportation, only to shuffle from crowded classroom to crowded classroom, with a different teacher every hour, who is also overwhelmed by too many new faces. This can be a recipe for falling through the cracks.

At School of The Future the belief is that adolescence is a time when children need a strong community more than ever. Each class has under 25 students and the same group of students travels through the day to different core teachers that they will have two years in a row. When eighth-grade humanities teacher Stacy Goldstein begins the semester, she will have already had the same students for all of last year and won’t have to start at point zero in assessing their needs and capabilities. She is an engaging teacher who was found bustling about the school weeks before the first day. “I am really looking forward to having these students again,” she said with a big smile. “We do a tremendous amount of writing in my classes, first drafts, second drafts, even fourth drafts. I push them to keep reexamining their concepts and refining their writing. They push themselves, too,” she added.

At School of The Future the directors, Yuet Chu and Catherine DeLaura, prefer not be called principals, eschewing the 1950s image of the principal lording over the school. They are very involved in the lives of the individual students as well as being first-rate administrators in the school. Besides the day-to-day business of running the school, they each participate in “advisory,” which involves meeting twice a week with the same group of students to discuss academic and sometimes social issues. It is no wonder that S.O.F. is known for a dedicated staff and rigorous academics, where independent thinking is nurtured within the curriculum.

S.O.F. boasts graduates who were named as prestigious Posse Scholars (receiving full college scholarships), as well as students who were honored with a plethora of awards from organizations such as the President’s Education Achievement Program, the Attorney General’s Office, Chancellor’s Honor Roll and the Women’s Leadership Council, among others. Guardian angels Councilmember Margarita Lopez and Borough President C. Virginia Fields championed S.O.F. as an excellent and innovative public school, enabling S.O.F. to receive a grant to upgrade their media center to further integrate technology to enhance the curriculum. Because there have been so many cutbacks in the public school system, S.O.F. is actively looking for an angel is the business sector to partner with the school in its mission to “strive to utilize technology to enrich teaching and learning in an effort to emulate what schools in the future may look like,” said Rebecca Daniels, president of the school’s parents’ association.

“In partnership with The Educational Alliance our Extended Day program reflects our commitment to the holistic school day that incorporates core academics as well as fine arts and sports,” noted Director Chu, who on a lark agreed to substitute teach at the school nine years ago, only to find herself so smitten with this exciting school, that she left her high-powered job on Wall St. forever. . .to become a teacher.

To meet some of the students and teachers from School of The Future, stop by Barnes & Noble at Sixth Ave. and 22nd St. on Sat., Sept. 18 at 3 p.m., where you can experience readings from favorite books, as well as original poetry, fiction and essays by young S.O.F. authors. (Any purchases made will be a partial contribution to the school). By that date, Reid Daniels will have finished his first week of high school, and if you get a moment, don’t forget to shake his hand for receiving the President’s Award for Achievement. Ask him about his new classes, maybe have a chat with young Mr. Daniels who is perhaps a budding barrister himself — a young man who might some day be challenging the Constitution in closing arguments, before the future members of the Supreme Court, who ironically may only be in ninth grade themselves right now.

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