POMPANO BEACH, Fla. – With a little help from their culinary instructor, the multi-ethnic group of first- and second-graders at BB International School chop, grate, dice, squeeze, season, stir and serve. They tong noodles into bubbling red sauce. They sprinkle in chili flakes. And along the way, they learn far more than how to rock an impressive bucatini with amatriciana.
The instructor, Alexa Altamura, adds a dash of math (slice the onion into cubes), a drop of geography (the pink salt is from the Himalayas), a pinch of global trade (tomatoes are originally from Mexico). She folds in a smidgen of anatomy (the role of muscles in chopping), a morsel of chemistry (steam, reduction, the Maillard reaction), a hint of marketing (that stamp in the cheese wax isn’t there by accident). There’s a little history scattered in (the recipe calls for pancetta because ancient Italians used cows for work, not food). And, incredibly, a lick of biology (a pivot into pasta varieties yields mention of black pasta, colored by the ink that squid disperse to escape predators.)
“There are more than 100 types of pasta,” Altamura tells her students, noses inhaling hot-plate heaven. “In America, we’re stifled.”
The cooking lesson at BBI is so fun, it’s easy to miss something even more fantastic: a peek into the future of public education.
BBI is a micro-school. In K-5, it has 50 students. (Its pre-school has another 80). The public school district around it has 271,000 students.
It’s wild to think of BBI as representative of tiny, new species emerging where Big and Standard have ruled for so long. But expansion of educational choice is shifting the terrain. The little ones, in all their nimble glory – from micro schools, to home school co-ops, to in between things that don’t even have names yet – have more ability than ever to adapt, evolve, expand. More educators can create options. More parents can choose them. And the potential niches where the twain shall meet are infinitely diverse.
“We could be a tony private school,” said Julia Musella, BBI’s founder and head of school. “But we make a deliberate effort to keep it affordable. This is a community school.”
The child of a grocery store executive is enrolled here. So is the child of a cashier at Lester’s Diner. Trying to further describe BBI is like trying to describe a new color. Julia Musella and her son Luciano don’t have traditional educator backgrounds. Their vision, though, is an intentional blend of educational approaches they combined to spur curiosity and creativity. BBI, Julia Musella says, is “a world school with a Renaissance curriculum.”
School choice is key.
Sixteen of BBI’s K-5 students use educational choice scholarships. Ten use the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income students. Five use McKay Scholarships for students with exceptionalities. One uses a Gardiner Scholarship, an education savings account for students with special needs such as autism. (Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog, administers the tax credit and Gardiner programs.) For some students, the Musella family foundation helps bridge the gap between scholarship and tuition.
The Musellas see choice as vital to advancing equity and diversity. Without it, BBI could not be the Renaissance-for-all they want it to be.
“In my area, there isn’t enough representation of what America is in our schools,” Julia Musella said, referring to diversity in schools, public and private. “You have to learn as a human being to work with everybody who lives on our planet. You have to understand them, and understand cultural differences, and find out what you have in common, and work from there.”
As fate would have it, BBI’s one-acre campus bloomed in the iguana-happy sprawl of Broward County. The centerpiece is the restored home of Pompano Beach’s founding family. Yellow brick, lush vegetation, rows of tricycles. The first impression, elegant and whimsical, is not by accident.