The school’s innovative curriculum is centered around student-directed ‘passion projects’
A School Without Walls, New York City’s first hybrid public high school, is now fully launched. The NYC Outward Bound school opened as a program with an inaugural class of 68 students last September and opened today as a new fully recognized NYC public school.
NYC Outward Bound Schools’ 15 Network Schools — across all five boroughs of NYC — utilize an expeditionary learning model rooted in Outward Bound that incorporates a relevant and engaging project-based curriculum, performance assessments, presentations of learning, and outdoor adventure to nurture students’ knowledge and skills. The schools also utilize Crew, the signature advisory structure in all NYC Outward Bound schools, that integrates social, emotional and academic development and leads to more connected, vibrant school communities.
“We are proud of the official opening of A School Without Walls, New York City’s first public hybrid high school,” said First Deputy Chancellor, Dan Weisberg. “A School Without Walls embodies Chancellor Banks’ commitment to reimagine the student experience through an innovative school model combining virtual and in-person coursework and career-connected learning in a supportive environment where students help design their own learning experience based on their interests and passions.”
Throughout the 2021-22 school year, NYC Outward Bound Schools collaborated with a design team and team of student interns to build the foundations of A School Without Walls.
The design team was supported by former NYC Outward Bound Schools’ School Designer/Coach Tanai Hall and Crew Coach Michelle Alers, and led by Veronica Coleman, formerly the principal of Kurt Hahn, an NYC Outward Bound School in East Flatbush. Coleman worked closely with Evan O’Connell, a founding teacher at MELS, an NYC Outward Bound School in Forest Hills, and Sharine Rowe, a science teacher, internship coordinator and chair of the internship department at City-As High School.
“As we grow A School Without Walls, our students, families and staff all play a role in how we design community, teaching, and real-world learning,” said Coleman, founding principal of A School Without Walls. “Our goal is to ensure that all young people feel empowered to explore their passions in an academically rigorous environment, learn with experts, and design their own learning with increasing independence.”
The school was imagined with an innovative, student-driven curriculum as the centerpiece — combining individual “passion projects,” real world learning and community-facing action. Through their passion projects, students make meaningful connections to the world around them so they can develop critical consciousness, rather than passively absorb information.
“It’s exciting to see A School Without Walls empower students to be co-creators of their own learning journeys in order to help tackle real, relevant problems that matter to them and their communities,” said Vanessa Rodriguez, Chief Executive Officer of NYC Outward Bound Schools. “This is what true liberatory learning looks like.”
As ninth graders, students are guided through the elements of a passion project and take stand-alone math, science and elective courses like languages, physical education, and coding, thanks to a partnership with Code Nation and CUNY College Now. As they build their independent work skills throughout high school, students have more time to spend on their passion projects with opportunities for support through place-based learning, service-learning, collaboration with experts in the field, independent research or internships. Students work with their advisor to ensure that their project goals align with New York State curriculum standards. A School Without Walls utilizes Civics for All, IM Math, and Regents/Next Generation Science Standards-based curricula that is applied to all project-based expeditions and course design.
Over the past year, A School Without Walls students have designed field work at The High Line to share the power of urban renewal with classmates, designed a gaming app that addresses online bullying in gaming communities, volunteered with the Cadman Plaza Conservancy to lay mulch and plant spring flowers and new trees, and interned with a teen activist organization to get hands-on training in peer education and community organization.
“These are the experiences that will set up young people for a life after high school which includes both financial freedom and joy,” said Coleman.
“You have the freedom to curate, pick or choose what you want to explore,” added Liz, a student at A School Without Walls. “You’re not limited. You do something new every day. Nobody decides your own path but yourself.”