EPIC Schools: An inspiring new model for public education

EPIC Schools, based in New York City, offer a model for public schooling that helps close opportunity gaps for Black youth.

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_ In New York City, Black high-schoolers tend to graduate less college-ready than their peers.
_ NYC’s Department of Education partnered with Kurani to imagine a new kind of school.
_ EPIC Schools serve as an inspiring model for bringing social justice to public education.

In 2010, a study of New York City students found just 9% of Black males were graduating high school at a level deemed “college-ready.”

In response, the city created initiatives aimed at improving academics, personal development, and school culture. The NYC Department of Education (DOE) also sought the help of Kurani, to reimagine physical space as a crucial aspect of how students experience community-centered learning.

This new network—EPIC Schools—needed to involve students and community members in the design, focus on developing students as individuals, and offer ways to nurture creativity and encourage dreaming big.

In other words: turn public school upside down.

“The city’s Department of Education envisioned an experience unlike the test-based curriculum of so many other public schools,” Zoe Balaconis wrote for NPR.

EPIC’s Build Barn allows students to build, tinker, and innovate.

Having shadowed teachers and students, learning about daily life and the needs of the community, Kurani used those insights to design EPIC as a collection of micro-environments perfectly tailored to the school’s community.

As The Journal reported:

The designs resulted from a six-month planning process that included workshops with the schools’ founders to understand their vision, walking tours of the neighborhoods where they’ll be serving students, completing socio-economic and demographic research, and engaging with a broad group of stakeholders: students, teachers and community members. Among the “co-creation” processes followed were live curriculum experiments in different learning environments.

NYC’s EPIC High Schools Pursue ‘Look’ for Competency-Based Learning

Instead of dividing spaces by subject, like so many schools, EPIC’s campus is separated by activity and learning type.

A bird’s-eye view of EPIC Schools’ campus, which features various micro-environments.

The design includes a sunken conversation pit for Socratic discussions, design studios, a test kitchen for learning culinary arts, a garage-like “Build Barn” for fabrication projects, and breakout pods for brainstorming and discussion, among many others.

This variety of spaces is designed to spark students’ curiosity. It’s meant to promote deep, focused work while also allowing room for hands-on building, quiet reflection, socialization, and physical activity.

Breakout spaces give students a chance to decompress and work quietly.

EPIC’s campus also offers students and teachers an opportunity to take on projects they previously never had access to. In doing so, EPIC serves as an inspiring model for what public education can become: not just a place to house students during the day, but an engine of upward mobility.

As John Duval, who directed the DOE team overseeing the collaboration, told NPR, “The concepts in the EPIC prototype give us real glimpses into what these could look like based on designing them around the needs of the people who go there every day—students, teachers, and parents.”

Have a project like EPIC in mind? Click here to get in touch, and let’s discuss your vision today.