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.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Q's School Tool: Part 4: The Brooklyn Apple Academy

I hear it said by parents all the time -- I want a progressive education for my kid. Well, if progressive means super small class size, hands-on learning, an arts-heavy curriculum and lots of quirk, you should really check out the organized homeschooling model that's sprouting up like sprouts all over, Brooklyn, USA. And while my image of homeschooling is a Polaroid of mom in the basement with a chalkboard and little desks, the actual ways in which homeskool kids are being larned at la casa vary greatly. One model is taking shape right here in Prospect Lefferts Flatbush (PLF), and while it's been primarily a pre-school to date, next year it starts logging paperwork to be an official alternative to "state indoctrination." The Brooklyn Apple Academy, founded by the creative and super-sweet homeschooled adult Noah Apple, combines the socialization element that comes with growing intellectually alongside a group of friends - with the playful freedom of a funky and quirky well-structured educational playdate. (I know I said I was sticking to looking at "public" schools, and generally that's true, but the BAA is the exception since it's right here in the 'hood and has enough individual intrigue to make it worthy of a visit).

While homeschooling is most often associated with a conservative Christian upbringing, there are many valid reasons why a "liberal" parent might choose to educate his/her kids outside of the rigors and propaganda of the industrial "Prussian" model of education. (I learned about the whole Prussian thing from Shimon Waronker on my tour of PS770 The New American Academy; it's basically the thing that you and I think of when we think of "school" - one teacher per grade at the head of class, pupils staring forward, requiring permission to go to the bathroom, teachers working in isolation etc. Though I must say the way it's described by detractors makes it sound like pure 1984 brainwashing, while my experience with public school felt very inquisitive and fun, lots of breakout groups and experimentation. But it IS interesting to think of the modern system as all about delivering a fundamentally obedient adherence to structure, society and State.)

So last week on my way to work I stopped off at the Brooklyn Apple Academy on a gorgeous early Spring day and stepped into a private house on one of Lefferts Manor's most gorgeous tree-lined blocks. The school is being hosted by a local couple whose kid attends, and a financial arrangement is worked out to use their home as school. As I stepped inside I was greeted by the sound of gleeful playing, as the actual "structured" school day doesn't start til "tea" is served around 9:30. The first thing I noted was the colorful chalkboard that had all sorts of useful and organizational info on it, looking thusly:

A cursory look shows that the days are actually quite structured, despite their artiness, and that "work time" includes actual lesson plans, often involving visits to actual local spots of interest and people doing interesting things. An upcoming visit, for instance, is to the Sacred Vibes Apothecary, a sort of New Age healing center that mixes up all manner of herbal remedies and tinctures. So yeah, there are school options out there that will introduce your kid to things other than the "state-sponsored" Zoo, Museum and Aquarium. (Dominant Culture getting you down? Head on over to Sacred Vibes for an elixir called "Think Different, But Still Do It On An iPad.")

But all joking aside, this is very real education. If inquisition and discovery are the main methods by which we learn, there's no reason to assume knowledge comes only or even mainly from "school." Plus, learning in a super-small group in a non-traditional school building might appeal to parents uncomfortable with the usual trappings of elementary school. Noah and his partner Lizzi Mazal are clearly skilled and loving educators, and the vibe is chill but with enough thoughtfulness to assuage any fears of a hippy-commune free-for-all. (Though, a little hippy-commune-free-for-all now and then ain't so bad, at least if everyone bathes regularly.)

This coming Fall, the school starts teaching 5-days a week to a small group of 4 or 5 and it won't be just preschool anymore. (Fascist!) forms needs to be filed and strict guidelines followed. But organized "homeschooling" has plenty of precedent, and given the skill and sweetness of the teachers, I'm sure these kids will turn out great and free-thinking. One catch of course - it ain't free. The parents pool money to come up with supplies and various trip costs and the salaries of the teachers. I don't know a precise figure, but it's gotta be north of $10K, maybe quite a bit north. BUT, even good quality private schools can't match the teacher:student ratio.

All in all, it's worth checking out. For the DoE-phobic, this sort of school could be the perfect alternative.


carrie said...

It would be interesting to know whether this school requires children to be vaccinated and whether the kids are. One reason liberal parents sometimes turn to home-school coops is to avoid vaccinating (healthy children). I don't know about this particular coop, but parents who care about science and public health may want to ask.

MadMommaCarmen said...

Good point, Carrie. While I don't know the answer, I just wanted to point out that there are exemptions (non-religious and religious) that can be applied to non-vaccinated or partially vaccinated children who want to attend public school.