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Avenues: The World School Opens To Fanfare & Critics Of Elitist High-Tech

By on December 6, 2012
Blended Learning, Domestic, For-Profit, International, K-12, Private, Required, Technology

A Snowy Night at the Kiev Opera House Trey Ratcliff via Compfight (photo illustration, not the actual school building)

Several NYC media are reporting on a new private school in New York City that is going over the top with technology, serving as a high-end experiment for ed tech spending. Students at Avenues: The World School in the tony Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan use a streamlined mix of technology including iPads, laptops and web sites to create a blended, personalized learning environment. The school charges around $40,000 per year in tuition. It opened in September and expects to expand to other major cities around the world.
Sophia Hollander at the WSJ writes:  

Almost every aspect of Avenues involves cutting-edge technology, from audio-sensitive cameras on the walls intended to connect classrooms around the world to the replacement of most physical textbooks with multimedia versions accessible only on iPads (and frequently created by teachers). All students at the nursery school to 12th grade school have access to iPads, but starting in fifth grade, all are equipped with an iPad and a MacBook Air—an approach that some experts called unprecedented and, perhaps, redundant.

There are 6,000 physical books at Avenues, but an additional 70,000 books, magazines and databases are available digitally, with plans to expand both collections. “Yes, there are students who love that physical book,” said Alia Methven, director of library services. “but that instant access of the virtual books is very appealing.”

To be sure, Avenues may not be a model for cash-strapped school districts across the country. It raised $75 million from private donors before opening its doors and invested $2 million on technology infrastructure. The program’s operating budget, not including salaries, is $1 million and is funded in part by an annual $2,000 fee charged to every family on top of the school’s $39,750 tuition (the fee also covers lunch and other items)

….

Avenues officials said they viewed the school as a training ground for Internet use in college and beyond—and part of that is teaching students how to wield that freedom wisely. Each middle school student takes a yearlong class in digital citizenship. The idea isn’t to bust students for playing prohibited video games but to teach them responsible online behavior. For that reason, few websites are blocked, but usage is monitored. Emails aren’t regularly checked although officials reserve the right to do so.

Via The Wall Street Journal

Jenny Anderson writes an earlier story in The New York Times:

The founders say students at Avenues will learn bilingually, immersed in classrooms where half of the instruction will be in Spanish or Mandarin, the other half in English, from nursery school through fourth grade. The school will be part of a network of 20 campuses around the world with roughly the same curriculum. If Mom and Dad move to London, little Mateo doesn’t have to find a new school, or maybe even miss any class. When Sophia is in middle school, she can spend her summers in Shanghai, and when she’s in high school, she can globe-trot by semester. Avenues will foster “mastery,” finding students’ passions early and building on them.

“Schools need to do a better job preparing children for international lives,” Mr. Whittle said. He and his team call themselves “fervent evolutionaries,” purposefully shying away from the r-word since, as they (now) acknowledge, most parents aren’t too keen to mix “revolution” and “my children.”

The result, they believe, will be a school where Singapore math and British geography collide with Juilliard-level violin instruction, in 20 shining schools around the world. It is a vision that many parents have embraced….

Detractors are equally easy to find, though they are loath to go on the record, because they have applied — or might. They wonder whether an untested curriculum will get their kids into college. They worry about Avenues’ for-profit status driving decision-making. Many are dubious that the building will be completed on time, and they are even more doubtful that Avenues will be able to open two schools a year around the world starting in 2014.

Via The New York Times 

The Economist writes:

THE first time he tried to create the “next generation of schools”, back in the early 1990s, Chris Whittle’s focus was on improving the education of the poorest pupils in America’s worst-performing public schools. Although in doing so the perennially bow-tied entrepreneur from Tennessee helped pioneer the charter-school movement, his Edison Project ultimately failed to thrive as a business. Now, with Benno Schmidt and Alan Greenberg, he is trying to reinvent education for bright, rich kids. On September 10th “Avenues: The World School”, the first of a planned global network, will welcome 700 pupils into a lavishly converted warehouse next to Manhattan’s popular High Line park. Their parents will typically pay just under $40,000 a year (in line with New York’s established top-tier private schools), having been promised cutting-edge technology and everything else to match.

Getting this far has not been easy for Mr Whittle, who says he has had to become “one third educator, one third real-estate developer, and one third investment banker.” After conceiving the idea in 2007 of creating a chain of similar schools in the world’s leading cities, the financial crisis robbed him of funding, a business partner and the intended first Manhattan site. Eventually he raised the $75m needed to get the first school up and running, found another site, and then toured the world to recruit staff and pupils. Many of the teaching staff have previously worked at other elite east-coast private schools, including Phillips Exeter, Hotchkiss and Dalton. (Even more gratifying than the 2,600 applications to attend Avenues were the 4,900 applications it received to teach there, says Mr Whittle.)

Via The Economist 



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