Behind masks and goggles, 5th and 6th graders are studying neuroscience intensively for two weeks, cutting carefully into sheep’s brains looking for the hippocampus.
This is part of a new school model that the Achievement First Charter network is testing.
"We've redesigned our middle school to focus in on what it would take, beginning in 5th grade, to see our students when they go to a college campus really thrive on campus and persist, rather than simply being ready to enter a college campus," Zachary Segall, Principal of Achievement First Aspire said.
Achievement First serves more than 13,000 students in three states, 8,000 of them in Brooklyn. The network is known for a disciplined approach to learning that results in high standardized test scores.
But two years ago, Achievement First began opening a new type of school that is structured very differently, allowing students more control over their education.
"If you're able to choose what you're more interested in, you're more likely to focus on what you're doing. It's much better," Amaya Andre, a sixth grade student shared.
Two of these new schools have opened in Brooklyn, including Achievement First Aspire in East New York.
Three times a year, regular classes are put on hold for two weeks so students can intensively study one topic of their choosing, like politics, photography, industrial design or neuroscience.
“They're excited to come to school. They are excited to be here and engage with this information. They are talking for weeks on end about it,” Elaine Salanik, an Achievement First Aspire teacher said.
Achievement First had noticed that it was succeeding in getting almost all of its students to go to college, but only about half ended up graduating college with a degree.
“If we can get kids excited about future careers and future courses of study now in 5th and 6th grade, they can ultimately use that to drive their interest and drive their motivation and what they are selecting to do in the next years until college,” Segall added.
The network plans to study how the students in this new program do over the years to determine if it works.
There are 21 older Achievement First schools in Brooklyn that are not part of the new project, but charter officials say those schools are already adopting some of these new practices.