Interview with Co-Heads of Avenues: The World School
Transcribed by Zara Jamshed
Dr. Pola Rosen (PR): Where did the name “Avenues” and “World School” come from?
Dr. Tyler Tingley (TT): There was a process of creation here with many names suggested over time. But I think people like “Avenues” because avenues are pathways, and in most major cities, avenues are the ways that people move from one place to another. This school is a way to help people start on their educational journeys, so it seemed like it had the appropriate connotation.
The “world school” because the concept of this school is that we will have locations in 20 countries around the world in major cities, but we are in fact one school. We are going to run this as one school, one faculty, one student body, one institution, connected by marvelous connectivity that modern telecommunications provides us today.
PR: Tell me about enrollment. What are some of the criteria that you’re looking for in the students?
Dr. Robert “Skip” Mattoon (RM): We just completed an early admissions cycle. We asked for any documentation that students have from their prior schools, and for the younger children we interviewed them with a team of experts who are good at assessing, and then our admissions team got together and made the choices. For students who have been in graded schools prior to this one they presented their grades and so forth.
PR: Did the enrollment number surprise you? Were they what you expected?
TT: We had 51 parent information events during the winter and spring. All of them were sold out. We ultimately had somewhere over 3500 parents who came to these various sessions and the numbers of applications exceeded my expectations.
PR: How will you promote diversity in the student body, including ethnic and financial, as well as children with special needs?
TT: Our admissions outreach program is trying to follow the best practices of other schools and making connections with organizations in town that will help us identify children to bring into our admissions office. We have a financial aid budget that will allow us to bring some socioeconomic diversity to the student body. We haven’t as yet developed a specific plan for children with special needs but I anticipate that we will have those students enrolled and we’re building a comprehensive student support team to help us accommodate those children.
RM: When the 20 campuses of our school around the world are open and running, arguably we’ll be the most diverse school you can imagine, because we’ll have hundreds of Chinese, hundreds of Latin Americans, hundreds of people from Western Europe, all part of one student body. Ty and I like the idea of having one common newspaper for the entire school so we’ll have contributions from different campuses. Students from this campus will be going to spend time in other campuses and children from that school will be coming here.
PR: What is your plan when a school is in another country? In Buenos Aires, do you plan to have Spanish and English? In the school in China do you plan to have Chinese and English?
TT: The language we’re going to be teaching here in New York is English. But we’re also going to have Chinese and Spanish starting in pre-kindergarten at a 50 percent immersion basis through the fourth grade, at which point their language time will diminish, but they’ll still have intensive language every day through their entire career here at this school. As we move to other countries, depending on what the language is in that country, we may have to adjust the languages offered. For example in Beijing, we may have a small Chinese program for those kids who are trying to maintain their Chinese studies coming from the US, but the Chinese are not going to send their children to school in Beijing for Chinese. They’ll be sending them to that school primarily for English. We’ll adjust that program around the world depending on the sites of the school, but English will be the common language in all of our campuses.
PR: What do applicants say is their main reason for wanting to come to this school?
RM: Applicants and their parents are taken by the idea of a world school. They’re very interested in the immersion program, the concept of having their children be relatively proficient in a foreign language if they come here in nursery school. The notion that families and children can move around the world into our different campuses is very appealing. And many of our families are international families and our policy for them is that if they’re transferred, let’s say from New York to Shanghai, they wouldn’t really need to be admitted to the Shanghai campus, they would just move automatically into it, which is a great use to a lot of parents. Global education has become a mantra of many schools and we’re really doing it in a very complete, thoughtful way.
PR: Both of you have spent time and studied in and taught in some of the most prestigious schools in the country. What do you think are the essential elements that you have found that you want to bring to this school?
TT: One of the things that distinguishes really good schools is the expectations that they have for students, for faculty, for all the members of the school community, that we do things in a rigorous, respectful, inclusive manner. I hope that we can build that culture at Avenues.
RM: There is an expectation for those schools that everyone is there for a serious purpose. Everyone is there to have some fun too, but the expectations that the culture sends are very high. I’d also say that it’s important that in any grade school for each child to be well known by not just one member of the faculty, but many, so that they have a feeling of belonging there, that people know their talents and their skills and they can be brought forward so that hopefully each child can achieve some success.
TT: We have had many programs to try and encourage kids to do terms abroad, but the actual number of kids who can access those programs is not a robust figure. And part of the reason for that is that there are so many requirements that American high school students are trying to satisfy for college. They want to take a particular sequence of courses and if they go overseas, they can’t get those courses. One of the things that the Avenues program will do is remove those barriers because we’ll offer that course in our international campuses. It’s quite possible that students entering in 2012 in nursery school, by the time they graduate 15 years later, that they will have had the opportunity to study on three or four continents, maybe five.
PR: How does being a for-profit school change the way that your school approaches education?
RM: We don’t see any difference. None of the things that we are aspiring to do have ever come laden with some sense that it has to produce a profit, at all. The schools that we’ve been at previously are independent schools, not-for-profit schools, but each of them carries a certain amount of debt which is paid off on an annual basis; there’s an economic reality to that which is not dissimilar to a for-profit school. If you could imagine the project that we have in front of us, establishing a school in New York, plus 20 other campuses around the world, if you were to imagine doing that on a non-profit basis, you would be stopped short. There’s no other way to achieve that mission besides the way that we are doing it. Also, for-profit schools in this country are somewhat unusual or rare, but they’re quite standard in Europe and elsewhere.
PR: Why are they so accepted in Europe but not here?
TT: I don’t know the exact reason for that. I think part of it would be partially tradition and habit. In this country, there is a unique sense that Americans have of their impulse for charitable giving. Education in this country grew up with a lot of that charitable energy behind it. That’s part of the spirit of which this country was founded. But in Western Europe, the Middle East and Asia, the culture is a little bit different.
PR: How do you plan to replicate the Avenues model in other countries? What do you perceive as your challenges?
TT: We are designing our curriculum on a template that is cloud-based. We’re writing all of our curriculum in a standard formula, which will be available to all of our campuses. One of the instructions that the school design team had was not only did we have to have the curriculum for Avenues New York, we also had to have a complete starter kit for our other campuses. Once the schools are up and running, we don’t want them to go off-course because it’s important to us to maintain a curriculum thread throughout these campuses so that if a student moves from one campus to the other, they’re not dramatically phased.
PR: It sounds like you’re writing a lot of your own curriculum. Is that correct? Or are you also going to take the best from other nations and interweave that into your curriculum?
TT: There is one major curricular piece that we are generating ourselves called the World Course. The rest of our curriculum is going to be taken from existing curricula, but we may customize it. For example we’re interested in using the Singapore math program in our lower school. The World Course is a curricular thread that runs from kindergarten right through senior year in high school and it is essentially designed to expose the kids to political, geographic, cultural issues from around the world and try to develop their global education.
PR: Do you think that after developing this global curriculum that you’d think about selling it to other independent or private or for-profit schools? Or sharing it in any other way?
TT: I think the understanding is that we will share it but I think it’s not likely we’ll sell it. I think the intention has been that ultimately this will be a resource for other schools to use. #