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NYC School Reinvents High School Curriculum

New York City's Greenwich Village has long been a source of innovation and bold new ideas, at least in the artistic world. Some educational officials in the area are now putting their creativity to the test, attempting to design a 'high school for the 21st century' founded on radical curriculum changes. What is the Grace Church High School?

A New Paradigm

Can you imagine attending a high school where the freshmen cook for other students? Where sophomores have classes suspended in March so they can pursue other projects? Where every Wednesday is devoted only to day-long labs or field trips to important New York City landmarks? If you were to attend Grace Church School's new high school in the Lower West Side of Manhattan, that would be your reality.

Grace Church has been operating in some educational capacity since 1894, when it became New York City's first boarding school for choir boys. Classes there became accessible to all boys (regardless of singing ability) in the 1930s, and starting in 1947 girls were allowed to attend as well. Any school that's been around for over a century surely has its share of stories to tell, but it may be Grace Church's fall 2012 high school innovation that ends up defining its place in history.

For their new school, Grace's Board of Trustees envisions nothing less than a total reinvention of the high school curriculum. George Davison, head of the school, told The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that they're not 'bound by… traditions and structures.' Instead, as Grace Church's own website declares, they want to establish a 'rigorous college preparatory program' with 'seminar-style classes,' 'extensive student-faculty collaboration' and 'a range of instructional methods.' The school will also feature a 'personalized counseling program' aimed at getting students to succeed and make it to the colleges of their choice.

If nothing else, the planners behind Grace Church's high school have made a way to prepare students for the sudden lack of structure that they're hit with upon first arriving at college. That explains all the unorthodox twists in their plans. Beyond those mentioned in the first paragraph, Grace's school day will extend to 5:30 PM. The library will border the cafeteria to encourage intellectual meal conversations - and in fact according to the WSJ the library will focus more on 'information' than traditional books. The school also plans to feature many more community gathering places, including a rooftop greenhouse and three theaters.

The Cost of an Education

Of course, such a school comes at a price, both to its designers and those who hope to attend. The WSJ reports that Grace's high school will rack up $165 million over the next decade, a significant figure. It will also charge its students around $36,000 a year in tuition - certainly not everyone will be able to attend this institution. Despite the high costs, the school believes it might lose money in its first ten years.

The school may face another problematic issue, as well, one that can be found in how faculty conceptualize the institution. Arvind Grover, K-12 faculty dean, told the WSJ he envisions the school as an 'incubator' where educators will come up with 'best new approaches' and 'trickle them down' to Grace's K-8 operations. That makes it seem as though Grace Church is gambling with the education of their high school population, and those are pretty big dice to play with. The WSJ reports that school officials are working hard to let parents know prospective students aren't just guinea pigs, but that may be a hard mindset to dispel.

On the other hand, Grace hopes to pull only 40 students by fall 2012. In a neighborhood inexorably tied with the bohemian lifestyle, that seems eminently doable. And, of course, if Grace administrators find the formula for success - if they gamble and win - more and more parents and students are sure to follow.

The rest of New York City's no slouch when it comes to experimental education. Read about NYC's Innovation Zone.