The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mr. Apple Grows a School In Lefferts

His name is Noah Apple Mayer. He's a puppeteer and a teaching artist. And now, he's starting a school in a Lefferts Gardens townhouse basement - self-styled One Room School for the current millenium.

The Q had a great chat with Noah this evening. His enthusiasm for the project is clear; this is a plan that makes tons of sense to him - it's a bit of a calling. And after years of being the "craftsy-creative" teacher in classrooms all over the City, he feels he can bring his hands-on project-oriented approach to families who want a more progressive, holistic, less bureaucratic, artsy learning experience for their kids day in and day out. And did I mention...puppets?

The school is called Brooklyn Apple Academy, and while the word "academy" might be a bit of a stretch, this IS Brooklyn and his given middle name IS Apple. You may be wondering how a dude just up and starts a school in somebody's basement, but the fact is the home school movement has grown considerably and isn't appealing just to born-agains - the "left" has embraced the model as well as a way to opt out of what some people see as the failure of mainstream education. To boot, this really is just a formalization of the do-it-yourself "dream of the 1890s" spirit that seems to have crept into everything from pickle-making to indie-rock. Plus, tons of parents have been creating coop pre-schools in their homes, so this is really just extending that into kindergarten. You may picture homeschooling as an environment where the kid never leaves the house and rarely sees a proper teacher or anyone else for that matter. But homeschool parents often solicit outside teachers and support, and by extension little schools crop up all the time either in such a support role or as full-fledged daily teaching environments. What's unique in this model is that when such a school starts up, a parent isn't signing up so much for a school, a school system, or a principal, or a district...but rather for a specific teacher and his/her philosophy. Some parents will obviously be repulsed by the idea of so much independence (and intense involvement), but a sizable number of Americans are now actively taking their kids educations into their own hands. And that leaves room for people like Noah Apple to step in and start a school in your neighbor's basement. It's not for everyone - if it were every tenth Brownstone would house a school. Actually, come to think of it, around my part of Flatbush every tenth Brownstone already has a school of sorts - usually called a Day-Care.

At right is a random shot from the classroom at the Imaginary Space where Noah currently teaches, wherein the good ol' Billy Goats Gruff story gets an enthusiastic reenactment. Noah grew up in Maine, colleged at the New School, teaches all kinds of hands-on crafts, puppets, drama and other tools of creative learning. He said something that sounds about right to me - that bright, inquisitive parents tend to raise bright, inquisitive kids regardless of what kind of school they end up in. And so why not, goes the theory, give the kids what they really want? A fun, active, goal-oriented day full of imaginative play, role playing and thing-making. And of course, fe wer state-mandated tests, though the State of NY does have some fairly rigorous standards that must be met by home-school kids eventually. Ever wondered what NY State DOES require of homeschool kids? Here's some answers.

Does it all sound a bit precious, elitist, class-ist, pretentious,dippy, artsy-fartsy, hippy-dippy or utopian? Of COURSE it does. Heck a lot of good ideas fit that description. But Noah's project IS just primary school education at this point, which people seem to place an awful lot of emphasis on these days. No one's thinking of taking the homeschool model to Medical Schools! Surgery by puppets, anyone? Such an off-the-grid conservatory as Noah's ain't gonna be free of course, but it'll be way less than your average private school. Roughly $8,000 - $10,000 a year he thinks (maybe more in line with parochial schools?). So, if this sort of thing sounds like your cup of playdough, then give Noah a shout here. For more reading on the small-school model check out the NY Times piece awhile ago on the Rad School on which Noah says his model is based.

The choice to send your kid to Brooklyn Apple will likely depend on how much you like Noah and his approach. Here's a piece on him that might introduce you to the guy. The Q wishes him luck - educational entrepreneurs are in many ways like any business-folk. The success of Noah's school will rest on both his teaching and his skill working with his customers - in this case, young kids and their ever-anxious older parental-unit decision-makers.

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