Shaping 21st century skills

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As a leader at Avenues: The World School in Chelsea, Abby Brody is helping students expand their horizons in more ways than one


  • Photo courtesy of Abby Brody


For Abby Brody, the most effective classrooms are the streets of Manhattan.

“Most schools serve a community as the center of a town, and everything revolves around the school. In New York, you’re just so small, and that’s really empowering. All of a sudden, the world becomes your community,” says Brody, Division Head of the Lower School at Avenues: The World School in Chelsea.

Brody, a veteran educator, plays an instrumental role in taking education beyond classroom walls. Avenues students have studied biodiversity on the High Line and taken walking tours of the surrounding gallery district. Even first graders have internships at local businesses, where they learn about working together for a common cause. One classroom studying Chinese culture partnered with a Mandarin-speaking senior citizen home, where burgeoning Mandarin speakers could communicate with residents in their native tongue. And of course, when students study ancient Egypt, they visit one of the world’s largest Egypt exhibits at The Met.

“I’m a constructivist [teacher,],” says Brody. “Learning is seeing and doing, experiencing and believing. It’s not a teacher telling you something.”

At a school that counts shaping global leaders among its ambitious goals, Brody has the vision, passion and expertise to uphold Avenues’s lofty mission. It’s a goal she does not take lightly.

“The most research I do is on 21st century skill sets, and thinking about what is the future they’re [students] going to inherit and the problems they’re going to solve,” says Brody. She notes that critical thinking and empathy, skills that help foster a global mindset, are essential for the next generation’s success.

Brody received a master’s of elementary special education from Bank Street College, where she focused on language disorders. Prior to becoming lower school head at Avenues, she taught at the Allen-Stevenson School for nine years and spent time with the Shipboard Institute of Education, where she wrote curriculum for geography, culture and immigration while circumnavigating the globe.

Today, her focus is both local and global. In Manhattan’s grid system she sees both a math lesson and an intricate map; lessons about different cultures present themselves just walking down the street.

“I just think of myself as every day trying to make an impact on one child, she says.

Brody, who moved to New York City from Minnesota at age 10, has long seen endless educational opportunities everywhere in our multifaceted city. Though teaching was always her ambition — Brody says she remembers lining up her dolls and playing teacher as young girl — her arrival in New York at an impressionable age seems to have shaped her focus on the skills that tomorrow’s global leaders will need to thrive.

“I think there’s no better place to raise your children,” says Brody, who has two kids of her own. “They have the opportunity to live beyond their borders with so many different cultures on one small little island.”

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