Taking Education Outside of the Classroom: NYC Museum School
Most high school students learn about buoyancy from a textbook or a lab experiment. Students at the New York City Museum School (NYCMS) understand buoyancy from observing it on a sailboat at South Street Seaport.
NYCMS offers the unique experience of incorporating four museums into theschool’s regular curriculum. The American Museum of Natural History, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, The Children’s Museum of Manhattan, and the South Street Seaport Museum have had partnerships with the school since its beginning in 1994 that allow NYCMS students to utilize the institutions as texts, classrooms, and even internship sites.
“We are so lucky to have them,” said Sonnet Takahisa, Director and Founder of NYCMS. “It requires a tremendous commitment from the museums.”
Takahisa based the school around her love and appreciation for what museums offer as educational tools. When given the opportunity to create a small school, she incorporated the museum as “an underutilized resource within education.” Takahisa was a museum teacher for more than 25 years and recognized the invaluable resource of a museum when it becomes expanded beyond just a field trip.
“We don’t even use the term ‘field trip’,” said Takahisa.
Her objective for including museums was to have students “learn the way scholars learn” by emphasizing the importance of primary resources and project-based learning. Students partake in numerous research endeavors over their career including mandatory group efforts with an advisor, the 9th grade investigation of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and a senior independent research project. Students spend a minimum of two afternoons per week at a museum.
“Students are being asked to figure out the real world,” said Takahisa. “We are training them to learn how to learn.”
From this ability to interpret resources, ask questions, and present information, NYCMS students have performed very well in document-based questions on the Regent’s exam. However, for Takahisa, the excellence of this school and for education in general is not always seen from test scores. She says her students are “kids that want to be here” and her faculty “is some of the best in the city.”
Takahisa also boasts about the diversity within NYCMS. She says that she chooses students across the city who are representative of the many different socio-economic backgrounds of the city. Roughly 40 percent of the 220 high school students are Latino, 20 percent are African-American, and 27 percent are Caucasian.
“It’s about a sense of community,” Takahisa said. “That’s what public education is all about.”
In its relatively young existence, NYCMS has already begun to fulfill Takahisa’s dream of a school beyond a school where “students learn the responsibility contributing back to a learning and social environment.”
“I believe in what this school is and what we’ve created,” she said. “Tony Alvarez [former Superintendent of District 2] said ‘to make sure that you make a school good enough to send your own child. My son is about to enter eighth grade here.”#
The New York City Museum School is located in the O. Henry Building at 333 West 17th Street.