Navigating the labyrinthine public school system can be one of the most daunting tasks faced by a New York City parent. But looking to overcome dated curriculums are Michael Perlberg and Lauren Shookhoff, co-founders of M.S. 839, a new middle school opening at the border of Kensington and Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn this fall.
Though the NYC Department of Education–which oversees the largest school district in the United States, serving 1.1 million students in over 1,800 schools*–decides where, when, and how to open schools (from acquiring real estate to the actual building), Michael and Lauren have actively engaged the local community and parents to develop the 6th to 8th grade curriculum at M.S. 839.
Their priority thus far is to encourage study that crosses disciplines. For instance, teachers might spend two months exploring the concept of "invasion." In social studies, students would learn about the growth of empires, while in science, they might learn about invasive species.
Arts programming will also play an integral role at M.S. 839. To start, the school will offer drama and art to all students with the goal of incorporating visual arts, theater, music, and dance in the curriculum soon after.
"As a kid, I never considered myself creative," says Michael, who'll become the school's new principal. "To me, it meant painting and art–I wasn't great at that. But creativity can mean how you find different routes to solving a problem, or how you express what you've discovered. We’ve seen students entering high school with lots of procedural knowledge, but little ability to think creatively and solve problems...so these are areas we're focusing on.”
This September, M.S. 839 will welcome its first 100 students who’ll help set the tone and tenor, not just for a close-knit Brooklyn community, but for policy makers and parents citywide.
Interviewed by Pavla Mikula
* statistic via NYC Department of Education