Rising Star Public High School
For most students, New York City museums are field-trip destinations. For students at the New York City Museum School, they are classroom settings. Once a week, high school students from the school leave their West 17th Street home to bring their lessons to life inside the city’s cultural institutions.
“We’re unique in the way we deliver instruction,” said Darlene Miller, the school’s principal. “The students travel to the museums of the City of New York on a weekly basis as part of our curriculum.”
Weekly museum trips become part of the annual course of study as teachers are charged with not just scheduling tours, but with finding ways to use New York’s vast cultural resources as part of their curricular teaching. For a study of religion, for example, students visited a Hindu temple in Queens, Manhattan’s Islamic Cultural Center, the Jewish Theological Seminary and a Buddhist temple in Chinatown. The students were also required to take their families on a tour of the Brooklyn Museum to explain aspects of three world religions they had studied.
The curriculum is separated into eight-week interdisciplinary modules that are co-taught, pairing an expert in the subject with a teacher from another discipline.
“Working with someone who isn’t as immersed in the subject matter as you are can provide a fresh approach to things,” said Regan Kaiden, a global history teacher who last year co-taught a module on evolution. This year’s modules include studies on Japan, Shakespeare, theater arts and imperialism.
“I can really appreciate the effort they have made in including non-Western cultures in the curriculum,” said Kim Dramer, mother of a 10th grade student and a professor of art history at Cooper Union. “That is something that is not the case in most schools around the country.”
In addition to being multicultural, the curriculum is interdisciplinary, so when English Language Arts teacher David Albin works with a science teacher to teach the earth science module, he makes sure students are learning language arts lessons along with the scientific content.
“The key is drawing those connections between the disciplines at all times,” Albin said.
Each module culminates in a student presentation, and students are often required to give tours to their families of the museums they visit.
“I love the way my daughter is learning,” Dramer said, “and I love the fact that when she gets out, she is going to know these five boroughs like the back of her hand.”
The Museum School has four official museum partners: the American Museum of Natural History, the Brooklyn Museum, the Japan Society and the South Street Seaport Museum. But teachers are free to incorporate visits to any museum they find relevant to their course material. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Rubin Museum of Art and The Dahesh Museum of Art are all frequent destinations.
As vivid as the museum trips make the curriculum for the students, they require extra planning on the part of teachers.
“We go out to the museums on our own time to look at the exhibits, figure out what ties into our curriculum, and what are the important things that we want our students to take away from those exhibits,” Albin said. “Even the paths that we walk from one exhibit to another are planned out so the time is used productively. It’s pretty painstaking, but it works.”
The teachers work to make the trips engaging for the students but also to ensure that their unique curriculum covers the core content areas the state expects them to.
“If they’re visiting the planetarium, we make sure that earth science lesson at the museum bolsters their understanding in such a way that it aids them in test preparation,” Albin said. “Everything connects. It’s not just that it’s Friday and we’re going to the museum today.”
The Museum School is immensely popular—nearly 2,000 applications were received for the 130-seat 9th grade last year—but classes are kept between 25 and 32 students, with just four classes to a grade.
“That’s to allow us to travel to museums the way we need to,” Miller said. “We really can’t handle it with more than four classes on a grade.”
Such a robust travel schedule makes for an incredibly rich academic experience but also a strained extra-curricular one. To give students more opportunities to participate in the activities of their choice, this year all classes will travel only on Fridays, so students can engage with their passions as actively in their own building as they do throughout the rest of New York.
New York City Museum School
333 W. 17th St.
New York, NY 10011
Darlene Miller, Principal
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