New York Family Partner: The Mandell School

140909_0248As the well-known proverb says, from small beginnings come great things. And few places exemplify this truism more than The Mandell School. Founded in 1939 by Max Mandell in a West 94th Street brownstone, the institution was, for many years, a respected preschool favored by locals. A decade ago the school made the decision to add a K-8 program, and corresponding space.

Today, The Mandell School has an expanded footprint on the West Side, and has taken up residence near Lincoln Center and in the West Village. “Students in our K-8 school learn to take positive risks, meet challenge with persistence and come to school each day optimistic and happy,” says Ben Chant, head of the lower school. “As an educator for over 25 years in the independent school system, I believe the K-8 model is best. Our students develop passions sooner in this community and emerge as leaders, contributing in ways they might not if there was a high school influence.”

The Mandell School boasts small classes for over 500 boys and girls from age 2 to grade 8, and a rigorous curriculum taught with a combination of progressive and traditional styles. Languages start early (Spanish and French) and build each year, culminating in virtual projects with students in France and an eighth grade service trip to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic.

The school’s emphasis on 21st-century integrated learning means a connected, purposeful, and collaborative experience for students. In Mandell’s upper school, grades 5-8, kids use Google Apps for Education and Schoology (like Facebook for education) for synchronous activities with peers as close by as Connecticut and as far flung as France and India. “These integrated technologies allow us to conduct classes and work on projects that attempt to solve actual problems, like the global water deficit,” explains Tiffany Della Vedova, head of the upper school.

Mandell’s cohesive curriculum is driven in large part by STEAM concepts and starts even in the earliest grades. “STEAM is the newest iteration of STEM
(the ‘A’ is for arts) and it includes a focus on design thinking,” Della Vedova says.

Learning how to create a visual representation of data is just one example of the kind of cutting-edge learning this initiative provides. In short, dull spreadsheets are out, vibrant info graphics are in.

The whole Mandell community comes together annually to participate in Tech Fest, where open classrooms and hands-on workshops are set up so kids and parents can create and learn from each other (think iMovies and Robotics). Global activism is another important theme that Mandell strives to incorporate into the school day.

“In 5-6 grade Global Activism, we often talk about activism, what it means, what it looks like, and then our students set it in motion,” Della Vedova says. Other classes have chosen to focus on such subjects as hunger and the environment, with a group electing to attend this year’s People’s Climate March.

The Mandell School’s award-winning green K-8 building mirrors the school’s modern approach to education (the school has been honored by Blackboard three times for Environmental Awareness). The 50,000-square-ft facility on Columbus Avenue includes a black box theater, gym, technology and science labs, and studios for art and music. Plus, it features recovered glass, sustainable wood, recycled rubber flooring, and metal shelves. Kids run free on an 8,000-square-ft terrace, sharing the space with half a dozen chickens (in a coop, of course) and a garden overflowing with squash, tomatoes, sunflowers, and herbs. The cafeteria, with its wall of lush, live plants, emphasizes zero-waste through a composting program.

“The middle grades are a bridge between childhood and young adulthood, and they’re really some of the best years,” Della Vedova emphasizes. “We’re helping our kids find what they’re passionate about and still have that multidisciplinary, integrated approach that’s so critical to learning and solving problems.”

To learn more about The Mandell School, visit