MANHATTAN — Monica Iken, a former elementary school teacher who helped create the 9/11 museum, has a taken on a new project — she's opening a progressive preschool on the Upper East Side.
The Iken Science Academy — aimed at kids ages 3 to 5 — will occupy more than 1,600 square feet of Jan Hus Presbyterian Church & Neighborhood House at 351 East 74th St., Iken said Wednesday.
Its focus will be on technology, and it will be dedicated to the memory of 9/11 victims, said Iken, whose husband was a bond broker working on the 84th floor of the the World Trade Center's Tower Two.
"Really it’s dedicated to our future, and showing that we can make a difference. The world we live in is all about technology, and [we want to] get them engaged at this young age," she said about the school. "Our 3, 4 and 5 year olds are more sophisticated than we ever were.”
With experience teaching in the South Bronx, Iken became a national figure when she founded the September’s Mission Foundation to support the development of the National September 11th Memorial & Museum. She is now a board member of the cultural institution.
“When 9/11 happened I was trying to get back into teaching and then my whole life went another way," she said.
She spent the next 12 years volunteering to get the museum off the ground.
During that time she remarried and had two daughters, who are now 6 and 8. Her family lives in Yorkville, just a few blocks from where she grew up.
“I wanted to open a school for a while," said Iken, noting she is still working out the logistics of having the space built with electonic paint boards, hologram walls and other tech-oriented details.
Iken hopes to open the preschool next September, with an 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. program for as many as 40 kids, with early drop-off and late pick-up options.
The school will have have two head teachers, three assistant teachers and cost “under $25,000” a year, she said.
To design the school, Iken tapped Joseph Eisner, whose New York City- and Hamptons-based firm is known for its eco-friendly, minimalist aesthetic.
Eisner is planning two large classrooms at each end of the space, with pocket doors that will double as gigantic blackboards and open onto a central, communal play area with a teepee-like structure with stepped seating and designated reading areas.
There will also be a "learning wall" along the play area, housing a built-in terrarium, aquarium and cubed shelves that can be adjusted for educational materials, according to Eisner's firm.
“Monica’s vision to create a science-oriented, progressive pre-school inspired us to come up with creative design solutions to engage children’s imaginations,” Eisner said in a statement. “This will be an amazing opportunity for parents who desire early education for their kids. I only wish this type of preschool was available when my kids were toddlers.”
Iken said the communal space will be like a NASA lab where kids will design their own experiments.
“Don’t underestimate 3, 4 and 5-year-olds. You give them something to do and they can do it,” she said, adding that moms in the neighborhood want their children in full-day programs like hers.
“Kids of today need a full day,” she said, “and parents don’t want just day care. They want a place where the child is learning.”