From Performance Art To Circle Time

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:07

The Blue School, founded by members of the intentionally strange Blue Man Group, plans to apply its educational approach to middle schoolers

Financial District Over 20 years ago, three friends pooled their distinct forms of creative expression to form what would become one of the largest theater groups in the country, with permanent shows in New York, Chicago, and Boston. Since its inception, the Blue Man Group, featuring silent performers covered head to toe in blue body paint, has entertained more than 17 million people around the world.

Now, the group's founder have transferred the creative principles from their performances into an innovative way to approach education at a place called Blue School, with a plan to expand on the horizon.

Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton, and Chris Wink of the Blue Man Group, working with Renee Rolleri, Jen Wink and Jennifer Stanton, founded Blue School, a private K-5 school in the Financial District, in 2006, much the same way that the Blue Man Group was conceived in 1988 ? through long conversations and debates in their living rooms.

Once the three founders started sending their own children to school, they realized they wanted to create an educational platform that supports both creative expression and academic skills.

"The school was really founded on the idea that you can have a cultural response to something happening in the world, very similarly to how Blue Man the show began," explained the head of school, Allison Gaines Pell. "The Blue Men first painted themselves blue in Central Park as a gorilla theater piece as a visual representation of the end of the 1980s. I always think of that story as an educator because for me, the Blue School is a response in many ways to the current educational landscape."

Pell joined the team at the Blue School two years ago, but knows what it takes to build a school from scratch. She founded the Brooklyn public school Arts and Letters in 2006, a K-8 school that is still growing. Her short time at the Blue School has not been without its challenges. In her first year, she faced the floodwaters of the East River at their South Street Seaport location after Hurricane Sandy hit.

Now, she's helping to develop a middle school curriculum for the Blue School's planned expansion; they expect to be running a middle school by the fall of 2015 in a new, neighboring location.

Pell said that when that building became available they immediately jumped on it, because, "continuous space is so hard to come by in New York." They are most excited about the outdoor play space that the rooftop will provide, since students currently spend their recess at the neighboring Imagination Playground on Fulton Street. A lot of the school's curriculum consists of project-based instruction, and inquiry-based learning. Both are founded on the belief that people learn about the world through questioning and experience. This year's 5th grade class has been working on a yearlong study of Homer's Odyssey. To complement their learning, the students are working with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Salopeck on his ongoing multimedia project for National Geographic called "Out of Eden Walk," a chronicle of a seven-year odyssey Solopeck is taking on foot, retracing the 21,000-mile global migration of our ancestors. Incorporating out-of-the-box educational elements is part of the school's mission. "Blue Man Group started as an outrageous idea: We wanted to inspire creativity in both our audiences and ourselves. We wanted to speak up to the intelligence of our audience members while reaching in to their childlike innocence," wrote original Blue Man Group member and school founder Matt Goldman in a letter to the public on the school's website.

You can see the Blue Man influence throughout the downtown school, which is flooded with natural light. Glow-in-the-dark art projects line the hallways, and different play areas are filled with brightly colored furniture and toys. A large fish tank occupies one hallway corner, surrounded by different reports and drawings of trout. The 5th grade science classes raised several trout, recently releasing them into the Hudson River.

Although The Blue School is based on such a contemporary idea of art and education, traditional academic values still hold. Pell said that the difference between Blue School and other schools is that they use artistic and creative learning methods alongside traditional academic ones.

"We continue to work under the principal that school can have a balance of both curiosity and wonder with more serious academic rigor," Pell said. "In so many schools, families are forced to make a choice between a traditional educational path or a contemporary, laid back, creative environment. Blue School really seeks a balance between those two worlds."