Taking Flight: Students learning through the lens of something they love.

Taking Flight: Students learning through the lens of something they love.

By Seth Cohen, Schechter Manhattan parent, alumni parent, and trustee


My son Toby is in the 7th grade at Schechter Manhattan. In his spare time, he’s also a student pilot. He’s learning to fly a Cessna 172 propeller plane, and has devoted hours, on the ground and in the air, to the serious study and complex responsibilities of being a pilot.

Imagine my surprise when Toby was doing his science homework a couple of months ago and I saw that he was custom-designing a private plane on his laptop, using TinkerCad 3D software he was learning at school. He described the process of making sure the plane was structurally sound, that the engines were correctly placed, that the nose was at the proper angle and so on.

Over the course of the next few weeks, Toby worked with Allison Levine, STEAM Coordinator at Schechter Manhattan, to refine the construction, and told me he hoped to have the chance to use Schechter Manhattan’s 3D printer to build a prototype of his custom plane design.

In math class last month, Toby worked on a lengthy presentation about altitude, ratios and algorithms, and for this project he chose to assess Captain Sully’s ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ flight to compute whether or not Sully would’ve had enough fuel and lift to safely return to LaGuardia or JFK (the answers were no). With support from Joshua Jacobs, his math teacher, Toby was able to compute glide formulas to document the rate of descent, distance, time-in-air and altitude for a passenger jet that had lost the use of both engines.

Last week, the 7th graders traveled to Washington, D.C. , as part of their humanities curriculum. One of their stops with chaperones and Schechter Manhattan faculty members Nora Engelman and Issac Silberstein was the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, where Toby had the chance to see the Wright brothers’ original flyer from Kitty Hawk. Toby was thrilled, and sent me numerous photos of the historic Wright Flyer plane (he’d actually built a replica of it out of posterboard many years ago).

What I found interesting about each of these seemingly disparate experiences was that they are all intertwined with Toby’s passion, flying. And somehow they’ve also become part of his ongoing, day-to-day curriculum at Schechter Manhattan. In science with Allison, in humanities with Nora, in math with Josh, Toby may or may not realize it, but he is learning how to be a better pilot — and how to be a more sophisticated learner.

This kind of custom-tailored curricular experience is one of my favorite things about Schechter Manhattan. From the hands-on opportunities provided by our Lieberman Family STEAM Center to a malleable curriculum that gives teachers the freedom to tailor their approach to an individual child’s strengths, while still making sure their core lessons are being taught, the combination of structure and adaptation is an approach I’ve come to admire and appreciate greatly.

By allowing a child’s personal interests to be integrated into their required curriculums, Schechter Manhattan’s Administration and Educational Leadership Team have pulled off the ultimate magic trick. Our students are not only learning, they’re learning through the lens of something they love.


Shabbat Shalom,

Seth Cohen