(This is a guest post by Amanda Reeves Fellner, Ed.D. Amanda is a mom of a first grader at Portfolio School and is committed to project-based learning as a method for elementary education. She is also a Lecturer in the Early Childhood Program at Teachers College, Columbia University where she works with pre-service teachers and studies children’s interactions in their school and outdoor environments.)
Project Based Learning is a model of schooling that prioritizes hands-on curricular experiences where students explore academic concepts through larger projects. Students in project-based classrooms have been shown to demonstrate growth in academic areas, as well as increased motivation and engagement (Duke et al., 2021).
When looking for schools for my child, I was searching for a small, project-based school where I knew my child would be seen and heard. Portfolio School [https://www.portfolio-school.com/], located on Hudson Street in Tribeca, is where I found it. Originally launched in 2016, Doug Schachtel and Babur Habib (founders of Portfolio School) sought to transform the traditional model of education by focusing on integrated, project-based learning. See more about their vision for schooling here:
Few schools in NYC carry out the project based model of learning and the parents of Portfolio feel strongly that a school like this should exist.
In a Project Based Learning environment, children’s ideas are met with seriousness and they are given the tools to successfully bring them to life. What they don’t realize is that the teachers are carefully and thoughtfully embedding academic concepts and teaching them to solve the problems of the future. Through relationships with teachers, and one another, our children found a place where they know their voice matters and where they learn to be in community with others. This is what Project-Based Learning is all about, agency in learning.
In an effort to ensure Portfolio School and the Project-Based model of learning remains at the forefront of educational change, the school has begun a transition to a Teacher-Led, Parents-Owned school. What this means is that our school will be governed by a board made up of parents, educational leaders, and the founders of the school while the head of school and teachers take ownership of the curriculum. This novel way of thinking about school governance allows the best of both worlds; parent involvement at a high level while maintaining the educational autonomy of the teachers and school administrators.
The co-operative model, primarily used in preschools, has been established as a way to build long lasting connections between parents, students, and teachers while also lowering school tuition costs. It is less common in elementary schools, especially here in New York City, but we’re here to change that. Moving to a Teacher-Led, Parents-Owned model gives parents an opportunity to be hands-on in their children’s education. From volunteering at the front desk to recommending after-school programming to actively engaging in events, parent involvement is at the crux of how the school operates. Each parent or caregiver comes with their own assets and supports the school in the way that they are able. When parents are involved in the day-to-day operation of the school, they know what is happening in the classroom and are better able to support their students. The school community also benefits from the diverse array of perspectives parents bring, leading to diverse experiences for the students.
As parents, we’ve worked with the school’s existing founders, teachers, and educational consultants as we’ve begun the shift to a Teacher-Led, Parent-Owned Cooperative School. Our board will include three parents, in addition to one of the founders of the school, and leading educational experts in Project-Based Learning. And while parent involvement is central to our model, we also prioritize the teacher-led component. Teachers and the head of school will have autonomy over the classroom curriculum and parents will support that vision. We believe that teachers are experts and with the guidance of an educational director/head of school, they are empowered to do good work.
If you want to learn more about our model, sign-up for an Open House here. We’re happy to share our process of moving towards a Co-Op model of education.
Duke, N. K., Halvorsen, A. L., Strachan, S. L., Kim, J., & Konstantopoulos, S. (2021). Putting PjBL to the test: The impact of project-based learning on second graders’ social studies and literacy learning and motivation in low-SES school settings. American Educational Research Journal, 58(1), 160-200.