Ask any Brooklyn parent: finding the right school for your kids is one of the most important things you can do for them, and that starts as early as preschool. If you’re looking into making that decision for next year, you should have the Brooklyn Preschool of Science on your radar. Carmelo Piazza (a.k.a. Carmelo the Science Fellow) founded the original Cobble Hill location in 2012 and has just opened a second school in Park Slope.
Dinosaurs arise from the walls
There are a lot of things vying for your attention as you walk into the school. There’s the 450 gallon fish tank, the animatronic stuffed dinosaur, the pixel peg LED light board. But mostly what you notice is Carmelo himself, his energy and how much the kids love him. They shriek his name, barrel headlong into his legs, and beg for high-fives.
Brooklyn Preschool of Science in Park Slope
After teaching science in Brooklyn public schools for 17 years, he started his science centers, and those grew into the schools.
“I wasn’t planning on opening a second school,” he says, “but the owner of the first school’s building had this space as well, and he planted the idea. It was really just a mudpit at the time, but with architecture and engineering we have turned it into this amazing place. Every room has windows and access to an outdoor space.”
A growing classroom wall
Walking down the halls with Carmelo, it’s easy to see why the kids are running around like excited bumblebees.
“The methodology is just based on a child’s approach to science,” he says. “They ask endless questions with no expectations. They really are natural scientists, and science connects naturally to math and the arts, and they learn without even knowing that they’re learning. And each question and discovery leads to another question and another discovery.”
A classroom at the Brooklyn Preschool of Science
The walls are filled with the typical children’s paintings you would expect to see, but also with enormous sculpted dinosaurs that the kids greet every morning, and the hallways end in circular alcoves with floor-to-ceiling colored lights.
“The two year olds especially, they come in, and they go straight for the lights,” he says. “They want to touch them, and their favorite colors change every day. If you embody fun from the first day they come in, it makes days two and three that much easier.”
And then there’s the astronaut.
Carmelo Piazza and the resident spaceman
The school has classes for two-, three-, and four-year-olds, and it’s a fusion of school, museum, and zoo. Animal tanks are built into the walls of each classroom, featuring everything from king snakes and geckos, to gerbils and guinea pigs, to Madagascar cockroaches. The outdoor spaces are all covered in hydroponic plant systems that the students help to care for. And although the school is science-based, that is by no means all that’s on the curriculum.
“Science ties into everything,” he says, “and we have blocks and dramatic play areas and books, and everything you would find in any other preschool. We also have specialists coming in every day, to teach yoga, Spanish, dance. Grammy-nominated Tracy Bonham is our music teacher. We also like to get the parents involved as specialists as much as possible.”
Jellyfish lamps in the front hallway
The school has a capacity of 110 students, but currently has about 70, so as not to oversaturate right at the beginning.
Carmelo is quite honest about not having been a science kid himself.
“Growing up with no hands-on science experience, I just wasn’t into it,” he says. “There was no inquiry-based science, and you’re not going to get a love of that if it’s not taught. It wasn’t until I was taking a science methodology class in college, when the professor took us out into the park for a natural selection unit, and broke down predator/prey relationships, that I realized, wait… this is awesome!”
An interactive dinosaur
It is obviously a reward in itself to watch these kids learn so effortlessly, but Carmelo is also inspired by his Sicilian father, who received no formal education after the age of six, but always stressed the importance of education to his children.
“For me, to have a school like this and see the glow in my dad’s eyes when he comes in, that’s the real motivation for me.”
I leave the school as another little person runs down the hall yelling “Carmelo!”, and I have to admit I am kind of wishing I could go to preschool again.
Be sure to tour the Brooklyn Preschool of Science this fall. But good luck trying to get your kids to leave.
Brooklyn Preschool of Science Opens Second School in Park Slope