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The Museum School: A Daring Concept Coming to Life

By Tom Kertes

Don't get Alissa Lembo started. Once she gets going on talking about the New York City Museum School, where she's working as a Guidance Counselor, there's simply no stopping her. More importantly, both the students at the Museum School and their parents all seem to feel the same way.

It must be a very special place that engenders such uniform enthusiasm. "It is," Ms. Lembo says. "This school was such a creative idea. It is such a daringly different way of learning."

The Museum School was a brainchild of its founders and co-directors, Ron Chalusian and Sonnet Takahisa. Its basic idea is very simple-yet, at the same time, indeed extremely daring: the great museums of New York are a veritable fount of information for all kinds of learning, not just in the appreciation of the arts or for a great liberal arts education. They can provide a firm foundation for science, math, history, and English as well.

Consequently, a close collaboration was developed between the school and its partner museums, the American Museum of Natural History, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Jewish Museum, and the Children's Museum of Manhattan. And on every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, after two regular periods at the school's home base (on 333 West 17th Street, in Manhattan), the students travel to a designated museum where each class works during a particular eight-week module. On Mondays and Fridays, students have full days of classes at the home-base. During each module, every single student develops and presents a major project.

While at the museums, the students work closely and intensely with teachers to develop oral, written, computational, scientific, visual, and technological skills. "There are six steps to the museum program," Ms. Lembo says. "Observation, questioning, research, synthesis and analysis, presentation, and reflection. As you can see, we want to develop a deeply analytic and independent way of thinking and the motivation to both collaborate with others and learn on your own. We find this is a much better, far more involving, method for learning than just sitting in a classroom and listening to a teacher lecture." Students, particularly those who are somewhat self-motivated, immensely enjoy this program.

"The other day, before making their presentation at the end of an eight-week project-module, there were a bunch of sixth grade girls standing outside my office," Ms. Lembo said. "You've never seen such excitement and anticipation about presenting a school project. That was all they could talk about. It was really inspirational. I was left deeply impressed with what we are trying to do, and what we seem to be accomplishing, here."

Admittedly, this school-one that is not highly structured-by its very nature is more for those students who tend to be somewhat self-motivated and enjoy being independently creative. No numerical grades are given. Admission is by application to the school, followed by an interview, and then a day of observation.

"Currently, we have 346 students," Ms. Lembo says. "We are only a few years old. We are still growing.

The School admits students for Grades 6-12. And, after just a few years, the Museum School is indeed regarded as one of the best schools in New York City, as proven by its very high PSATs and other test scores. School tours are offered to interested students and their parents weekly from October to December.

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