City-As-School: Internship-based Learning in New York City Public Schools

August 8, 2016

Rachel Seher, Melissa Birnbaum & Alan Cheng

This article presents a case study of the internship program at City-As-School, a public high school founded in New York City in 1972 to foster experiential learning. The case study is constructed using the authors’ practical knowledge as members of the school community, a transcript of a recent student graduation speech, and interviews with alumni. It is informed by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot’s (1997) concept of portraiture, an approach to “inquiry and representation that seeks to join science and art” (p. xv).

The authors acknowledge our bias. As members of the school’s leadership team, we believe in the power of experiential learning and identify as progressive, public school educators. We believe that our school offers young people a unique and valuable educational experience that few other public schools do. We also aim to apply both an empathetic and a critical lens to the internship program at City-As-School in order to reveal its “essential features” and “rough edges” (Lawrence-Lightfoot, 1983, p. 6). We seek to apply a “discerning gaze” to the internship program in order to reveal nuances and complexities (Lawrence-Lightfoot, 1983, p. 6). Indeed, while the case study reveals that City-As-School’s internship program has been transformative for many students, it also highlights internal and external challenges that threaten to compromise the program’s Deweyan nature.

Historical & Theoretical Context

The notion of experience has been central to City-As-School from the start. The school was created during a period of administrative decentralization in New York City public schools. Fred Koury and Rick Safran were chosen by the then Board of Education to serve as the founding principal and assistant principal, respectively. Both were “deep believers in external education,” and the planning team, which included teachers and students in addition to Koury and Safran, drew on School Without Walls prototypes that garnered national attention for breaking from traditional approaches to education and situating learning in the surrounding community.

Read the full article:
This article originally appeared on Bank Street College of Education
Seher, R., Birnbaum, M., Cheng, A. (2016). City-as-school: Internship-based learning in New York City public schools. Bank Street Occasional Paper Series 35.
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