New American Academy Tries Student Independence Over Teacher-Led Lessons

Jaylen Waddle
Jaylen Waddle

New American Academy is a school located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn that was founded by Shimon Waronker. The school began its school year with four teachers in large, open classrooms with 60 students instead of assigning one teacher to 25 students like most traditional classrooms. New American Academy encourages student independence over teacher-led lessons, scientific inquiry over memorization and freedom and self-expression over strict structure and discipline.
Waronker developed the idea for this learning model with several Harvard graduate students. This idea was sparked from the success seen at an elite boarding school in New Hampshire called Phillips Exeter Academy, where students work together and hold discussions around tables. Instead of using an elite school for this model of education, Waronker decided to try it in one of the nation’s toughest learning environments. He wanted to prove that this method could work for any child in any environment.

New American Academy opened with 126 kindergartners and first graders. One grade will be added each year up to the fifth grade. Teachers stay with the same group of students each year to build accountability for their learning. Teachers are paid on a scale that considers the performance of the students. There are many challenges in dealing with the students for various reasons, but the teachers are seeing significant improvements from when they started.
The learning model is still in the trial and error phase, but with the learning being so out in the open, teachers can seek help from each other. Teachers also have 90 minutes of joint planning time each morning. Many of the students have behavioral problems, but the teachers are dedicated to finding what works for the kids. Waronker believes that the intense collaboration among his teachers will allow this learning model to eventually surpass others.
Via The New York Times
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