Plans continue for Blue School to open a middle school

Downtown Express photos by Dusica Sue Malesevic Allison Gaines Pell, leader of the Blue School, which plans to expand to a middle school next year in the space behind her.

Downtown Express photos by Dusica Sue Malesevic
Allison Gaines Pell, leader of the Blue School, which plans to expand to a middle school next year in the space behind her.

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC  |  The Blue School at 241 Water St. is growing with a new additional location and middle school plans that includes offering sixth grade next year.

Currently a preschool through fifth grade, the Blue School is converting 233 Water St. into classrooms, offices as well as a planned gym, rooftop playground, storefront gallery and a black box theater

“We’re starting slow, so we’re starting with just one class of 18 sixth graders,” said Allison Gaines Pell, who has been head of school since 2012.

The construction will be completed next summer. After sixth grade begins in 2015, the plan is to include seventh grade in 2016 and eighth grade in 2017.

“I think that the plan to go through middle school was always part of the original vision,” said Pell. “In fact, at the beginning there was talk about high school and college. I think the founders have always dreamed really big.”

The Blue School was founded by the innovative Blue Man Group and their partners in 2006. What started as a two’s play group has grown to a 250-student elementary school this year. It took four locations in the East Village before the school ultimately settled in the Seaport three years ago.  

Once the middle school is up and running, the Blue School will scout out another space to house all the anticipated students. The 233 Water St. space will serve as a transitional location.

“Although on the day that we announced that we were going through middle school, the very first question was ‘what about high school?’” she said. “Parents are hungry for it, which is great.”

Tuition for this year for full-time students was $36,900. The tuition for the middle school has yet to be announced.

The program will center on what the school calls “STEAM,” for science, technology, arts, and mathematics.

“The Blue Man Group itself was sort of an exercise in STEAM a long time ago,” said Pell, who cited the performance group’s utilization of science and engineering to build a computer to work on their LED screens.

The middle school would encourage long-term projects such as writing a plan for a business or non-profit, and specialization.

“Rather than saying, for example, in seventh grade, they will take Art II. It would be more like in seventh grade they would take Japanese printmaking,” said Pell. “By using a narrower band they can practice ways of thinking and get really specialized in something.”

Pell took the Downtown Express on a tour of the school —empty because of summer recess. Light poured in and views of the Brooklyn Bridge stunned. There is an arts studio, library, science nook, a space on the deck to raise bees, an insect hotel situated on the terrace outside of the cafeteria, and a wonder room and hallway that have black lights to spur imagination. 

When students enter the building, they take off their “outside shoes” and put on their “inside shoes,” Pell explained, and stored them in cubby holes that looked like larger paper-towel tubes.

The middle school would be a continuation of seeds planted in elementary.

“The promise of what we start doing with the younger children, I think can pay off in just spades with middle school children,” Pell said. “I’m really excited to see how our current second graders evolve and sort of launch into seventh and eighth graders.”

Last school year, the fourth grade class did a year-long study of the “Odyssey” and contemplated the question of what it means to be a hero. The students analyzed the text and learned about Greek culture. They connected with Paul Salopek, a journalist who is traveling by foot from Ethiopia to South America for his “Out of Eden” project.

The students became fascinated by how ancient Greeks preserved their food as they did not have refrigeration. They targeted food dehydrators and made prototypes to use it on food.

“Then they tasted I would say most of the food — some of it really didn’t look very appetizing,” said Pell. “The kids were just on fire cause they were trying to figure out what the best way. So we had a lot of food dehydrators upstairs.”

The school’s “insect hotel.”

The school’s “insect hotel.”

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