AltSchool Hub

The Humans of Dogpatch Project

Posted by Kristin Uhlemeyer

Jan 5, 2017 10:13:59 AM

A child’s understanding of the world is shaped first by the community around them. We start life as members of our families, then members of our school, and part of a neighborhood. Where we live shapes our conceptual framework for how we think of our place in the world and how we interconnect with others.

I feel forever grateful that AltSchool recognizes that the classroom should be more than the four walls of the school building. Rather, we can be members of our bigger community. At AltSchool Dogpatch in San Francisco, we embrace the concept that “the student is a citizen of the community, not a future citizen” so that children feel ownership in their own learning. To make education relevant, we strive to ground it in the tangible — how does what we do make a difference in the world around us?

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We practiced writing concepts and language in Writer’s Workshop, and the students became obsessed with the idea of making magazines for a classroom library so that our classmates could read our work. We then got an idea — what if people outside of our classroom could read our work too? What better way to share with members of our community than by learning more about where we live through interviews with our neighbors? With the blog, Humans of New York, as inspiration, the class sought to learn more about what the adults around them do everyday and create our own Humans of Dogpatch project.

In addition to achieving learning objectives in writing, our central idea for the Humans of Dogpatch project focused on students understanding the concept that individuals have different roles in society and that each role helps achieve a larger goal. All roles, no matter how big or small, are necessary and help each other in some way. The students had also been studying ancient China and they used this project as a way to make comparisons between life today and what life was like in medieval times. The most noticeable difference is that there are no farmers in Dogpatch, whereas most people making up the feudal system lived directly from the land. Plus, there is no emperor of Dogpatch (although the students liked to speculate who the emperor would be if there was one).

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We began by talking about what makes a great question and how to interview to find out more about a person’s job. The students brainstormed together and learned about interrogatives — “who, what, why, when, how.” We learned that certain questions like “What’s your favorite color?” might be interesting, but they don’t help us learn more about our main goal of finding out information about our local businesses.

We then hit the streets and visited the shops, gyms, restaurants, and museums of our neighborhood in small groups. We took pictures of important parts of our visits and asked our questions. I was BLOWN AWAY by the kindness and patience that all of the people in our local businesses showed. They all donated so much of their time (and also some of their merchandise) to the students. I was impressed with how the amazing people of Dogpatch were willing to help us learn by simply speaking with us. What an adventure!

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Back in the classroom, we figured out how each business relates to the others by creating a giant “Map of Dogpatch” mural on our wall. The students had to work together to paint the outsides and insides of the buildings (if you lifted the flaps, you could see what the businesses looked like on the inside). Additionally, we talked about matting our photographs and writing a label or caption. The students created the layout themselves.

Next, we wrote a first draft for our longer articles, and then a second, third, and sometimes fourth draft! The students checked capitalization, organization, punctuation, and spelling before writing a final copy to go into our magazine. They revisited their work over the course of several weeks to see what to add, fix or change to improve their writing. We celebrated the entire writing process. Finally, we learned how to organize our time to accomplish a goal and meet the deadline for our final article (although writing never really finishes, it sometimes has to come to an end).

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Lastly, we made the cover for our magazine by each contributing drawings of the people we see outside each day: Dan the gardener, other teachers, parents, classmates, people walking their dogs, people exercising in the park, business owners, etc. The students each wrote an "About the Author" section by looking at other published books and brainstorming what we wanted to share about ourselves. Currently, the students are creating 3D models of the same buildings using wood, LEDs to light up the city, and motors to see if they can make their cars drive. They are incredibly inspired to take their ideas even further and they have come up with fantastic, imaginative beginnings.

From start to finish, this project was several months in the making. These first and second graders are incredibly proud of their hard work, and I am incredibly proud of them!

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Project-Based Learning at AltSchool Brooklyn Heights

Posted by Zhanna Cannon and Jenny Hartman

Dec 15, 2016 2:47:48 PM

AltSchool Brooklyn Heights educators Zhanna Cannon and Jenny Hartman recently led Upper Elementary students in a three-month long project exploring land and people of Western parts of Asia known as the Middle East. Here, they share an in-depth look at how this project-based learning unit incorporated core skills work, social-emotional development, and real-world experiences.

Sparking Curiosity and Honoring Interests
Understanding how the history of seemingly far-flung regions influences our lives today is an important concept, and provides a rich opportunity for exploring many different subjects. Our goal was to demystify the unknown of countries we were not familiar with and to experience the interconnectedness of the world by exploring beautiful examples of balancing traditions and modern experiences.

As we started the unit, it was essential to spark students’ curiosity. We asked students to begin by exploring the different biomes of Asia and pick one they were most interested in. We worked with students to further explore their interests, whether it was studying flora and fauna of the region, or doing research on specific landforms and countries.

Looking at maps to study biomes, many students were drawn to the mystery and common misconceptions surrounding deserts and the countries within this biome. The biomes invited students to think about the land without the borders of countries. The learning unit evolved into a deep study of the Middle East, as students investigated the region’s geography, history, religion and art.

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Practicing Core Skills
By organizing learning units into projects, AltSchool educators create dynamic opportunities for personalizing learning for every student, while ensuring that all students learn about fundamental topics such as history, math, or english language arts. Through contextualized learning environments, students incorporate and pursue personal interests that engage them and make learning meaningful. AltSchool’s tools give educators more time to spend with students to understand how each student learns best, and enable educators to assess standards-based progress. Through the application of technology, our picture of each learner becomes richer over time, enabling even greater personalization.

History: We gained exposure to history of the Middle East by looking first at geography and ecosystems, then introducing people, culture, and religion. This approach helped students better understand the desert biome and in turn, they demonstrated their learning by describing in detail the flora, fauna, and human impact on the region over time.

Math: Studying Islamic art enabled a unique approach to geometry, as students examined patterns, symmetry, and tessellations. They also looked at arrays and different ways to represent multiplication. Working in independent and small group settings, students began building number sense and strategies during this project and were excited to collaborate with peers to build math skills.

English Language Arts: This project presented ample opportunity for developing writing skills. Students learned about character studies, examined how characters are portrayed in stories, and explored different approaches to creating characters in their own writing. They also learned about informational writing by reviewing articles about their biome of choice. By writing memoirs about their chosen biome, students practiced exposition, exploring why they chose that specific biome, what role the weather plays, and the impact of humans.

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Developing Social-Emotional Skills
AltSchool educators prioritize social-emotional learning in everything we do. During this unit, our class read It Aint So Awful, Falafel, a book about a girl from Iran who moves to California in the 1970s. The book sparked rich conversations about how to learn about, and from, others. It also brought up many questions---which led us to explore what makes a good question.

The class learned to research before making assumptions and how to approach others respectfully. Students reflected honestly on their own biases, and humanity became a significant part of this project, as they developed self-awareness around their knowledge and actions, and learned how to become more compassionate. As part of the unit, students developed a toolkit for the classmates of the protagonist in It Aint So Awful, Falafel to help make her feel welcome. The toolkit consisted of a collection of strategies to approach situations that are unfamiliar, uncomfortable or misunderstood. Each tool can be used to check our own biases, encourage observation versus judgement, and to recognize and respect the individuality of others.

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Incorporating Real-World Experiences
No matter the focus of a learning unit, AltSchool’s educational approach is designed to help students apply their learnings to the real world. Going on field trips and bringing in experts from the community are just two of the ways educators incorporate real-world experiences.

For this project, we visited the Children's Museum of Manhattan to learn about textiles and other Middle Eastern art. Children’s Museum of the Arts paid a visit to help students investigate biomes and look at Islamic art using stop-motion animation. And when an Associated Press photographer showed the class pictures from Pakistan, Syria, and Afghanistan, students learned that earning trust is an important part of being able to tell someone’s story through pictures. In each of these experiences, students applied their new skills to ask insightful and respectful questions to help further develop their understanding of the Middle East. As educators, it’s incredibly rewarding to see students develop deep curiosity of a subject area, learn new skills, and gain a thorough understanding of a subject that was so unfamiliar to them three months ago.

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Public Benefit Corporation Report

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Nov 29, 2016 1:40:15 PM

We recently completed our Public Benefit Corporation Stockholder Report and are proud to share the results.

2016 Public Benefit Corporation Report.pngBecoming a Public Benefit Corporation

A public benefit corporation is a fairly new corporate form. Traditional corporations in the United States typically are required to maximize shareholder value above all else. While corporations may engage in socially responsible or mission-driven activities, these activities must always be secondary to, or somehow improve, the bottom line. Public benefit corporations, by contrast, may have an expanded public benefit purpose that doesn’t need to take a backseat to the maximization of shareholder value.      

In 2013, the State of Delaware (where AltSchool is incorporated) passed legislation permitting the formation of public benefit corporations in the state. In 2014, AltSchool converted from a Delaware corporation to a Delaware public benefit corporation.

Being a Public Benefit Corporation is Aligned with Our Mission

AltSchool’s public benefit purpose, as provided in our mission, is to improve access to a quality education so that all children can reach their full potential. We are building a technology-enabled network to deliver the world’s best, most personalized education. The platform is designed to connect families, students and teachers through that network. Our technology empowers educators to measure and foster student agency as well as strong academic and non-academic standards-based progress.

Scaling our Public Benefit Purpose

We are entering our next phase as a benefit corporation. We have operated our own lab schools in California and New York for the last several years. Beginning fall 2017, we will begin growing a network of partner schools nationwide by adding our first cohort of pilot partner schools. Over the next few years, we will expand that frontier to include diverse schools of all types, sizes, and approaches.

We invite you to read more in the full report.

Join Us

Parents are welcome to visit one of our lab schools before applying. We also invite interested educators and schools to learn more about becoming part of our 2018 partner school cohort.

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Topics: Public Benefit Corporation

Introducing Alex Ragone: Head of School, AltSchool Union Square

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Nov 17, 2016 12:12:32 PM

We have an exciting announcement: Alex Ragone will serve as Head of School for AltSchool Union Square, our new middle school campus opening in New York in fall 2017. Alex brings two decades of experience leading and teaching in independent schools in New York City. He is currently the Head of School for AltSchool East Village, and is looking forward to growing AltSchool’s New York community.

Get to know Alex and his vision for AltSchool Union Square.

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Meet Alex Ragone
Over the past two decades, I’ve had the great privilege of creating change in education, which has only deepened my passion to continue down this path. I hold a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from George Washington University and a master's degree in Instructional Design and Media from Teachers College at Columbia University. I started my career as Technology Director at the progressive Calhoun School and then moved to Collegiate School, a more traditional all-boys school. At both schools, I worked to model and integrate student-centered teaching techniques powered by technology.

Prior to joining AltSchool, I worked as Director of Middle and Upper School at City and Country School in Manhattan, where I helped redesign the electives program. Students began by writing proposals about what they wanted to learn. We then assigned them to advisors who worked with them to achieve their goals. This process enabled students to develop agency, which I believe is deeply important to cultivate in learners.

In my current role, I lead the first AltSchool Manhattan campus in the East Village. I’m proud that our students play an integral role in shaping and defining the culture of the school. What’s especially exciting is the hard-working culture they’ve developed around their research practices and project-based learning. Together, we’ve successfully opened a new school and built a strong, caring community of students, parents, and educators. I’ll bring these learnings with me to AltSchool Union Square, where I look forward to examining the problems we face locally, nationally, and globally with middle school students -- and investigating solutions together.   

Embracing Change in Middle School
As an educator, my goal is to create a supportive and adaptive learning environment for all students to take risks, grow, and develop as individuals, regardless of age or grade. However, middle school is a time of great change in a child’s life; it’s essential to focus on the whole child and to help students develop a strong sense of agency, so they can take more responsibility for their learning. Between fifth and eighth grade, students transition from childhood to young adulthood. With that transition comes many questions, opportunities for self-reflection, and great potential for growth and positive change. As Head of School, I work with classroom educators to create an environment that fosters a growth mindset, and enables students to discover their passions, pursue their interests, and ultimately learn to become independent thinkers.

Middle school also provides a unique opportunity from an academic perspective. Students shift from concrete to abstract thinking, and they understand how the past affects the present. Students enter middle school with very clear writing skills, they are confident mathematicians, and they ask great questions. Middle school is the time to solidify those core skills and help students apply them to the real world.

Vision for AltSchool Union Square
AltSchool Union Square will be a welcoming and diverse campus. Like our other campuses,  we offer a whole-child, personalized approach to learning that fosters student agency. The Union Square educator team looks forward to working with families to help their children succeed as individuals and build strong relationships both at home and school. My goal for all students by the time they graduate from AltSchool is for them to be able to understand what they’ve learned, articulate how they will continue to grow as learners and individuals, and know how they want to make an impact on the world going forward.

I’m most excited about creating an environment in which students will be able to understand and appreciate a variety of perspectives. For example, as a group we might examine various historical movements -- such as studying the printing press and how it influenced China and Europe, or looking at democracy in the United States and how it was powered by both technology and great thinkers coming together at the right time. Challenges like this help students understand different viewpoints, seek creative solutions to problems at hand, and become the solution makers of the future.

Creating the Optimal School Environment
Collaborating with AltSchool educators, architects, and designers in developing this campus has been exciting because we are designing a space that reflects our priority on personalizing education. The goal is to make the space as functional as possible to support many different types of learning experiences -- such as specific areas for independent activities, small group work, and large group instruction. The communal spaces will showcase student work and provide areas for socializing as students arrive before morning meeting. There will be spaces designed for project-based learning, art, and maker and design-thinking activities. There will also be a theater space with tiered seating so we can gather as a whole school and foster a strong sense of community.

Union Square is a vibrant neighborhood. From the farmers market, local parks, small businesses, and neighboring schools, there is so much to explore. As a transit hub, Union Square also allows for quick travel to museums and other New York City landmarks. I’m so excited to learn more about the neighborhood and the city alongside our first cohort of students and families.

Middle School As A Time To Get To Know Yourself
I grew up in New Jersey, just a few miles away from New York City. I ran a newspaper route during my middle school years and considered myself a small business owner. That was also a time in my life when I started to learn more about who I was and the type of person I wanted to be. I learned how to make small but impactful changes every day -- whether that meant improving my delivery processes, being kind to a person in need on my route by shoveling their snow, or simply taking the time to ask about someone’s day. These types of learning experiences are so important at this age because they offer an opportunity to learn from mistakes and gain independence. I’m thrilled to design a middle school program that gives adolescents the opportunity to create similarly meaningful, personal memories with guidance and support from our expert AltSchool educators.

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In Practice: Whole-Child, Personalized Learning

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Nov 17, 2016 11:01:36 AM

At AltSchool, everything we do is geared toward a whole-child, personalized approach to education that fosters student agency. To facilitate this, our educators work to develop all parts of a childnot just their academic abilitiesand to create experiences that are tailored to the specific learning abilities, needs, preferences, and interests of individual students. Our ultimate goal is to empower students as creative, resilient, inquiry-driven citizens who are able to self-advocate, develop strong relationships, navigate complex information, and drive their own learning in diverse environments beyond the classroom.

Jaqi Garcia, an educator at AltSchool East Village, shares what her class of fourth through sixth graders is working on now.

Taking a Cue from our Community
Our class started a project in October on immigration histories of Manhattan, with a focus on non-dominant perspectives. We’re situated in the Lower East Side, which has a rich history of immigrant communities, so it’s relevant for students to understand the space they inhabit. Understanding the historical context of the area and how it affects where we live today is an important concept for students to grasp. And as we began the new school year, it also provided a great opportunity to orient students to our surrounding community.

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A Whole-Child Approach to Immigration Curriculum
As an educator, I’m always looking for ways to focus on the whole child by integrating non-academic and academic skills into projects. Global citizenship, cultural competency, and perspective taking are three non-academic skills that were key to this project, because learning about different cultures helps students develop a number of essential life skills. On the academic side, students learned about history, ecology and English language arts by investigating lesser-known histories of people who shaped the land, studied early ecology and resources of the landscape, and wrote essays comparing and contrasting topics ranging from immigration through Ellis Island to the underground railroad.

Another goal was to personalize the learning experience for students. The essential question we posed in relationship to this project was, “How does distribution of power effect the lives of immigrants?” We learned that 40% of New York City’s population is foreign born. I sought to help students develop their own uniquely personal perspectives as they examined their familial geographical histories in order to understand how their own lives and the lives of others have been effected over time.

Two students in the class are foreign-born, half the class has parents who are foreign-born, and the entire class has at least one grandparent who was foreign-born, so this project presented a valuable opportunity to make learning personally meaningful to each and every student as an individual. One student was particularly excited to explore his family history by writing about Cuban immigration to Manhattan!

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What Happens When Learning Feels Relevant
Throughout this project, we will cover history, ecology, science, writing, perspective taking, critical thinking, compassion, ethics, and more. We’re currently working on map-making, where learning is personalized based on students’ interests. For example, some students are interested in mapping what Manhattan looked like in the 1600s, while others are creating graphic representations of their neighborhoods, comparing the past to present day. We’ve also explored the local community through field trips to theSchomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Ellis Island, and the Tenement Museum. Students understand that immigration is a big part of what built New York City and our country, and they are able to relate conversations about current issues to what happened in the past.

I’m really impressed with the depth of knowledge that students are developing, how engaged they are, and how they’re able to understand the relevancy of historical events in today’s world. Students feel empowered by learning historical information or reading an article from the newspaper and being able to form an opinion on it. It’s also been interesting to see the roles students have taken on: One student asked to write an argument-based research essay and has taken on the role of a historian.

“I think it’s important to study the history because we are the next generation of people who can right the wrongs of our past, but we can’t do that if we don’t learn about them.” ---August, Grade 6, when asked why it was important to study the history of the African Burial Ground in New York

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Establishing a School/Home Connection
Students really enjoyed their trip to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and have continued exploration with their families. A number of students have been moved to watch documentaries on the various topics we’ve discussed on their own time. Students have also asked their parents to take them to the library to check out more books on these subjects. As an educator, it’s incredibly rewarding to see students develop deep curiosity, seek out information independently, and drive their own learning outside of school.

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Topics: Project-Based Learning, School, Classroom Stories, Learning in the Community

Post-Election Resources for Parents and Teachers

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Nov 9, 2016 4:17:53 PM

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Like many schools around the nation, our students have been learning about voting and the political process over the past few months. Our teaching community has been focused on creating open and supportive environments for students to bring their questions and wonderings to light, as they explored the often divisive 2016 presidential election. Going into November, we knew that half of the country was going to be unhappy with the outcome. That’s why we believe students should have the appropriate framing and closure to the election cycle to support their understanding and continued role in shaping our country’s future.

Today, our educator team strived to arm students with age-appropriate knowledge and, when needed, coping strategies. As educators, and as parents, we wanted to share some of those tools and resources we’ve found to be helpful in our classrooms.

  • Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, provides a wealth of resources to support the Election 2016 conversation and beyond.
  • Huffington Post’s What Do We Tell the Children? highlights three concrete ways to support our students: tell them we will protect them, we will honor the outcome, and we will guide and support them in becoming responsible members of our democratic society.
  • The Zinn Education Project offers middle and high school centered lessons on illuminating the complexity within our country’s history.
  • Teaching for Change provides teachers and parents with the tools to create schools where students learn to read, write and change the world. The site includes recommendations for early childhood anti-bias education, including articles as well as book lists for children and adults.

We are hopeful that these resources help bring children and adults closer together both as a community and a country.

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Topics: Parents, Community, Learning in the Community

When Core Skills Meet Project-Based Learning

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Oct 26, 2016 10:18:33 AM

What can a wading pool teach middle schoolers about colonization in the New World?

AltSchool educators are always looking for creative ways to bring core academics to life to engage learners, while also making learning personally meaningful to students. We’d like to share a recent project-based learning example from one of our middle school classrooms, where students were asked to travel back to the Colonial Era to pitch the king and queen -- roles played by their educators -- for an investment to leave England and travel to the New World. The four-week project arc incorporated core skills work in English, history, math, and science.

Here’s a look at how our educators created an engaging experience for these middle school students.

Creating wonder
Our educators began by asking students to form small groups and posed the following question: “You have the opportunity to move to the New World, but you must write to the king and queen for an investment to leave the colonies. How will you go about this?”

Framing a group learning project with a provocation piqued students’ curiosity right away and set the stage for lively discussion and an engaged learning experience.

Engaging students
Educators further engaged the students by discussing the challenges faced by travelers of the time, as well as the promises of such a voyage. Introducing key science concepts behind density, volume, and mass helped students begin to understand the resources it would take to cross the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, students learned how to effectively write a persuasive pitch so they could embark on their journey to the New World.

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Investigating and creating
Educators brought in a small swimming pool to represent the Atlantic Ocean. This sparked further curiosity in the students as they began to prototype and test boats on the fan-powered, windy seas. By experimenting with different types of materials, students learned how to manipulate them, and began to truly understand why things float.

“Learning about Archimedes' principle was one of the highlights of this project, as it helped me understand the relationship between buoyancy, density, and mass.” --- Mia, Middle School Student

As a few teams successfully crossed the "Atlantic Ocean," they began learning about the realities of settling a colony in the New World. Students investigated options for industry, determined their group specializations, and created a plan for the financial resources they needed to start their business.

Over the course of the project, budgeting concepts and writing skills were continuously woven into each student’s work, helping students apply thinking strategies for tackling challenging problems, build their knowledge across multiple subject areas, and develop key learning habits.

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Sharing and reflecting
Throughout this project, students were encouraged to share and reflect on their work as a part of their learning process. This meant presenting what they’d learned about the industries they’d explored, or reflecting on why their boat didn’t cross the Atlantic on the first, second, or even third attempt.

Demonstrating to an audience helps create personal accountability as well as the necessary motivation to complete challenges. Students then reflect on the learning process by examining whether they answered the essential question of the unit and how they arrived at that answer. Providing opportunities for sharing and reflecting at the end of a project not only enables students to engage more deeply in the learning process, but reinforces the learning that has taken place.

“It's been amazing to see how immersed students are in our whimsical colonial world. The just-in-time and personalized approach creates an organic learning environment where students are engaged in learning and using content because it helps them solve problems that they're currently facing.” Tommy, Middle School Educator

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Entering the Next Phase of the AltSchool Mission

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Oct 18, 2016 9:51:53 AM

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Today AltSchool shared some exciting news: We recently formed partnerships with the first schools who will join our network of lab schools, beginning fall 2017.

We’re thrilled to welcome three pilot partner schools to the AltSchool network: Berthold Academy in Reston, Virginia; The Greene School in West Palm Beach, Florida; and Temple Beth Sholom Day School in Miami Beach, Florida. These three schools are leaders in Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and constructivist approaches. They share our belief that a whole-child, personalized learning experience that fosters student agency will best prepare children for their future.

Why is AltSchool partnering with other schools?

When our founder and CEO Max Ventilla started AltSchool in 2013, his vision was to enable all children to reach their full potential. We began by opening lab schools in San Francisco and quickly expanded to Palo Alto and New York. Starting on a small scale has allowed us to build a robust technology platform that supports educators in providing a personalized, whole-child education that fosters student agency — and to quickly iterate and improve in response to what we learned in our own classrooms.

However, the goal was never just to create a network of small private schools that only a few could experience. To one day help all children achieve their potential, those benefits must extend beyond the walls of our own classrooms. Starting this year, AltSchool will begin the next phase of our journey, by growing a network of partner schools nationwide using and shaping our platform.

Over the next few years, we will consistently expand that frontier to include diverse schools of all types, sizes and approaches, before ultimately bringing the technology to the nation’s 50 million students in the largest school districts.

What does this mean for AltSchool students and the future of AltSchool?

As more partner schools join the AltSchool network, all networked schools—including our own lab schools—will continue to inform and improve the technology educators use in the classroom. That means, all students within our network will enjoy the benefits of these continued improvements.

We are still many years away from achieving our mission, but we look forward to the exciting developments that will come as a result of these partnerships and to continuing to improve AltSchool’s offerings for all students, educators, and parents. Read more about our announcement in this release.

Interested in becoming a partner school? Learn more about how to join our network through AltSchool Open.

We are accepting applications for the 2017-2018 school year in Chicago, New York, Palo Alto, and San Francisco. Attend an event to learn more. 

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My Daughter's First Day at AltSchool

Posted by Max Ventilla

Aug 30, 2016 4:53:34 PM

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When we started AltSchool, we had the lofty goal to create a place where parents would be more than happy to send their children; they might even be a little jealous of their children for getting to go. Three and a half years later, my daughter Sabine started at AltSchool this week. I feel that littlest bit of jealousy alongside enormous excitement.

My daughter is so different from me, and the world she is growing up in is so different from that of my childhood. But, I am reassured knowing that Sabine goes to school with exceptional educators who have the freedom and support to prioritize her development. I am thrilled that, as my daughter grows and her passions and strengths evolve, my wife and I can expect her school experience to meet her needs academically and socially. I’m grateful that as a family, we can deeply engage in our daughter’s education while preserving flexibility for our family life.

It is wonderful to get to be part of a school that is changing as fast as my child and the world around us. Every year, the AltSchool team looks back on the past twelve months and, in partnership with our school communities, we focus on the most meaningful changes we can make. We incorporate relevant research from the education space and explore what is possible as an organization with deep technical capabilities. To begin this school year better than the last, our engineers worked on tools that could enable the creation of a rich portrait of each student that could build in depth and breadth each year. As a parent, I am eager to be involved in the creation of that Portrait and to be able to follow my daughter’s journey.

At AltSchool, Sabine will be with adults all day who model a growth mindset. As a parent, I am proud to be part of this 21st century approach to education that will empower not only my child but, with time, many many more children. I look forward to sharing the journey with all of the new and returning families at AltSchool both here in the Bay Area and in New York City.

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Topics: School, Thoughts from Our Founder

San Francisco Homeless Project and Two Inspiring AltSchool Students

Posted by The AltSchool Team

Jun 29, 2016 11:02:50 AM

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This week we’re witnessing an unprecedented collaboration of over 70 local news organizations coming together to highlight homelessness in the Bay Area. Starting today, you’ll see the topic take center stage, with everyone from KQED to the San Francisco Chronicle tackling the problem and discussing options.

AltSchool is proud to share some incredible work around homelessness by two Fort Mason middle school students. Inspired by the people and places they encounter within their own communities every day, Ethan and Gio began a many-months journey -- one that took them from the classroom, to a field-trip at Marc Roth’s The Learning Shelter program, and ultimately to a TEDx stage where they shared their vision for a “tiny home” prototype.

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Ethan and Gio were so personally affected by the plight of homeless individuals around them, they chose the problem of homelessness in the city of San Francisco as the focus for their culminating “changemaker” project.

One day after school I was driving with my mother,” Ethan shared. “We went past a parking lot near 16th Street and the 101 and I noticed that there were a large number of tents under the bridge… about 30 tents in all.”

Something clicked, as he realized that unlike his family, those people wouldn’t have warm beds to sleep in that night. Gio had had similar experiences living in San Francisco and shared a passion to impact homelessness in a meaningful way. As they considered the idea, they came across a powerful interview with Ronald Davis, a Chicago man who reportedly died homeless in 2014.

“You lose all your humanity shaking a cup begging,” Davis said. “At the end of the day when people go home, and everybody get on the metro train and then I just feel so bad that I can’t be going home too.” His story hit home for Ethan and Gio. Ronald Davis’ story fueled their belief that society has a responsibility to provide basic needs, safety and job opportunities to every one of its people. It shaped the kind of changemaker they wanted to become, not just as students, but as human beings.

So, they teamed up and soon discovered work by Gregory Kloehn, an artist who builds mini homeless houses in Oakland. With the guidance of their teachers, they spent many months learning, interviewing, debating, and finally developing a unique split-level tiny home on wheels that can provide security and private living space. They unveiled their 3D-printed prototypes and shared more about their project on the TEDx Youth stage last month, which we invite you to view in full here.

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We applaud Ethan and Gio. They embody what we are trying to teach at AltSchool: to practice empathy, identify passions, develop their voice, have accountability, and positively impact the lives of people in their community.

Read about the SF Homeless Project campaign, featuring more AltSchool middle school students, in today’s San Francisco Chronicle piece: "We can learn from kids and the empathy they have for San Francisco's homeless."

Changemakers: At AltSchool Fort Mason, the middle school class embarked on a year-long study of systems and were beginning a unit on “changemakers”; someone who can influence the evolution of today’s systems for a better future. Students were challenged to identify a system in need of change, research the problem, interview experts, and propose solutions by way of “Shark Tank” pitches, then create prototypes and work toward changing that system in a tangible way. The lesson combines interdisciplinary project-based learning, incorporating core subjects like math, social studies and writing, along with social-emotional skills like public speaking, teamwork, empathy, and more.

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Topics: School, Community, Middle School, Learning in the Community