PARK SLOPE — Students at Millennium Brooklyn High school don't sit in rows of desks facing their teacher, they sit in groups facing each other.
The unconventional classroom set-up speaks to Principal Kevin Conway's philosophy that students should learn as much from each other as they do from their instructors.
"We want to intentionally get kids working with people who are from their same backgrounds, and from kids who are from vastly different backgrounds, including kids in the Autism Spectrum Disorder nest program," Conway said.
Millennium Brooklyn opened in 2011 with 115 students and now has 660 students. To keep students from falling through the cracks at the growing school, Millennium puts students into "advisories" — groups of 15 that meet with the same teacher three times a week to do team building activities, work on college prep or just discuss current events.
The advisory group and teacher stay the same for the entire four years and "become a little family within the larger school family," Conway said.
"I want every single kid in this school to know that one adult knows them well and cares about them," Conway said.
DNAinfo New York sat down with Conway to talk about Millennium. Here's the condensed version of the interview.
Q: How did Millennium Brooklyn come about?
A: Millennium was started as a sister school to Millennium High School in Manhattan. It was started to serve Brooklyn families, to be a school that was college prep and highly rigorous, but also very inclusive and reflective of the larger Brooklyn community.
We have a lot of families who went to neighborhood schools like M.S. 51, M.S. 88, and Arts and Letters. About 45 percent of students are from District 15. We also have more than half of our students who grew up in Brooklyn but they are from the far reaches of Brooklyn. So it's a nice mixture for us.
Q: What’s special about Millennium?
A: My favorite part about our school is the diversity of our students. We're one of the most diverse high schools in the city. It's roughly 30 percent white, 30 percent Hispanic, 30 percent African-American and 10 percent Asian. Roughly 40 to 45 percent of our students qualify for free or reduced price lunch. So they're coming from low-income working families, and some kids are coming from neighborhood homes where their families are upper middle class or upper class.
We have kids who have autism who are high functioning and they come to our school to be successful. It's great that it’s reflective of the larger Brooklyn community and everyone achieves here.
I always say that the classes we have here our exceptional, our teachers are exceptional, but as important, if not more so, are the things that kids learn from one another over their four years. That to me is really preparing you for college and career. It's getting the different perspectives that you can’t generate yourself from your classmates who come from all over and a myriad of backgrounds. I think that’s a key for who we are and how we see ourselves.
Q: Tell me about Millennium's Autism Spectrum Disorder nest program.
A: It’s really finding a niche for those kids who otherwise are just lost in the system. Their social deficits make it such that they really struggled in school historically. But when you give them the therapeutics they need and the social supports, they’re in the running for valedictorian. They excel.
We just had an ASD student accepted to NYU, which was his first choice. We’ve only had two graduating classes but every student in our ASD nest program has graduated or is on track to graduate.
Q How does Millennium handle college prep?
A: We are pretty explicit that if you come to our school, we are trying to get you ready for college and we want you to have great options. To that end, we start the college process in ninth grade with class trips and advisory lessons geared toward college. We have two full-time college counselors. We start doing individual meetings with families and kids in 11th grade. We have tons of parent workshops in the evenings around FAFSA.
We had a girl who got into Princeton last year from our school, but we're just as proud as the kids who go to Brooklyn College. Our college adviser has a great saying, "It's not a race to be won, it's a match to be made."
Q: What’s your take on the metal detectors in the building? (Millennium Brooklyn is in John Jay Educational Campus at 237 Seventh Ave., with three other high schools.) Some principals in the building have criticized them.
A: It’s not an issue for us. All students in the John Jay Campus, including Millennium kids, have to go through metal detectors every day. We help kids deal with that. I'm there greeting them in the morning. After about a week, it’s just a minor annoyance. They view it as just another part of their day, much like getting on an airplane. It's annoying to go through the scanners, but that’s about it. It’s beyond our control. We help kids understand that things that are beyond your control, the time and energy you spend on them is kind of wasted.