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Get a Sneak Peek of Zuckerberg-Funded Middle School Coming to Union Square

By Noah Hurowitz | March 21, 2017 12:21pm
 A rendering shows a portion of the planned interior for the AltSchool middle school, scheduled to open in September.
A rendering shows a portion of the planned interior for the AltSchool middle school, scheduled to open in September.
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UNION SQUARE — A private middle school partially funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has released renderings of its planned interior — which is slated to open near Union Square this fall.

AltSchool, a private school that uses a technology-driven approach to design individualized lesson plans for students, has started building out its new school at 90 Fifth Ave. on the corner of 14th Street.

The school, which charges about $30,000 tuition per year, revolves around a Montessori-like curriculum and bills itself as a hybrid tech company and education startup. It’s the brainchild of a team of Silicon Valley types with a long history in companies like Google, where AltSchool CEO Max Ventilla worked for more than a decade.

The new space takes up an office-building floor previously occupied by The New School. It will be divided into two main areas — each of which have a classroom and group area space, as well as a larger communal area with a small kitchenette, a lunch area, and amphitheater-style seating. 

Students will be divided into two “bands” — one for fifth and sixth graders, and the other for seventh and eighth graders. Students in the mixed age bands will learn together in the “one room schoolhouse” style around which AltSchools revolve.

The space is designed to support the technology that the company uses to shape each student’s progress, according to Peter Knutson, Director of Strategy at the architecture firm A+I, which helped design the space.


“One of the major tenets of AltSchool is students taking initiative in taking control of their learning,” he said. “So we have a lot of spaces where teachers can help direct students into different modes of learning or environments that are directed toward different types of learning.”

Each classroom includes several private cubbies in which a student can work independently or have a one-on-one chat with a teacher, and a larger communal area includes amphitheater-style seating for students to work in groups.

The larger communal area also includes a science area, a kitchenette, and a computer area, all of which feature large windows for an airy, well-lit atmosphere. For physical education, students head to the McBurney YMCA two blocks away.

The goal of the school is not to have kids learning by directly using technology but to have the company’s technology help “curate” each student’s learning process and allow for real-world, project-based learning, Ventilla said.

“The rush to blended education has in many ways used technology incorrectly,” he said. “The goal is to drive real-world learning, but too much reliance on using technology to learn undermines that.”

The New York operations are run by Alex Ragone, a technology educator with two decades of experience in city private schools, and the new school will have four teachers as well as a floating specialist.

The new school is currently accepting applications for about 40 new slots and will open in September, organizers said.

The school chain already has two locations in New York. The first, a kindergarten-eighth grade school launched in Brooklyn Heights in 2015 and another K-8 location that opened in the East Village last fall. Current middle school students from each of those locations will move over to the Union Square location in September, officials said. And future rising fifth graders from the Brooklyn and East Village sites will continue to feed into the school, organizers said.