DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Learning at two new high schools being planned for Downtown Brooklyn is being overseen by those with the most to gain — the students.
Youngsters at public charter school Brooklyn LAB are taking the lead in designing curriculums for the schools.
Brooklyn LAB, which opened last year and currently serves sixth and seventh-graders, announced at the White House Summit for Next Generation High Schools earlier this month that it would launch the two schools in 2017.
Administrators are now looking to current students to play an active role in planning what and how their new classmates will learn.
The students, 60 percent of whom live in public housing and 20 percent of whom are transient or homeless, have weighed in at public meetings and small sessions with administrators about what kind of programs should be available for students with different learning needs and backgrounds.
“If we have a Brooklyn LAB high school, we can have more teens learning about the world,” said 12-year-old Amir El, who spoke out at an Oct. 1 hearing in support of creating the high school.
The sixth-grader said that at his old school he was able to focus on academics, but didn’t learn any leadership skills until coming to Brooklyn LAB.
His favorite subjects are coding, robotics and Big History, a discipline that merges science and social studies to examine the path of civilization starting from the Big Bang Theory. He said he wants to use his skills to create a virtual world or, one day, invent a machine that will change your clothes for you.
While the locations of the new schools have yet to be determined, co-founders Erin Mote and Dr. Eric Tucker expect they will all be within a third of a mile of Brooklyn LAB's current location at 240 Jay St.
Between creating the high schools and expanding the middle school, they hope to eventually serve 1,800 students.
“We’ve worked very hard on the language of possibility,” Mote said.
She said the students, many of whom will be the first in their families to attend college, are already thinking about dual enrollment credit, the cost of tuition, how long it will take to finish school and what jobs they’ll have once they graduate.
“We want to prepare all of our students to be makers, coders, tinkerers, hackers,” Tucker said.
The school, which trains students in the applied sciences, also places a heavy emphasis on college-ready writing. Extracurriculars include not just robotics and coding, but also the debate team and the school newspaper.
Part of Brooklyn LAB’s success comes from its focus on individualized learning. Students receive two hours of mentoring each day: One hour in math and one in English Language Arts.
The tutoring sessions give what administrators call “complex learners” — either high-level learners with behavioral issues or those who are below grade level — the type of attention they need to succeed.
Students are also trained to figure out the “why” behind all of their answers in class.
“We don’t feed them the answers,” said seventh-grade math teacher Jamica Craig.
The students are encouraged to debate each other when they respond to questions and work with partners.
Many of the students have already proved they’ve got chops in a high school-level setting.
The Brooklyn LAB debate team beat out high school students with an overall first-place win at a Nov. 21 tournament hosted by the NYC Urban Debate League. Two students, Morgan Murchison and Kumar Wise, secured third-place overall in the tournament.
Murchison, 12, has been at five different schools and said this one has been the best.
“I like this school a lot,” the seventh-grader said. “It’s the longest I’ve been in a school."