How does it differ from traditional high school?

Traditional High School Designed for industrial era Highly structured Hierarchical Sequential learning Stratified ages Sequestered Self-serving achievement Future Earth Academy Engages the now of emerging activity Fluid and adaptive Learners and mentors switch roles constantly Contextual, relevant nonlinear learning Dynamic groupings Fully engaged with the public Purpose-driven contribution Future Earth Academy is best compared to: Incubators Incubators serve as facilitators and catalysts. In their best examples, they also support networking and collaboration among their constituents and even include alumni. Incubators provide resources, contacts, mentors, funding, equipment, workspace, and an environment of like-minded people. Design Labs Design labs (like MIT Media Lab or NYU ITP) explore imaginative use of technologies, such as how they might augment or improve the way things are done; and in many cases, they nurture wildly creative experiments or works of art that stretch society’s sense for what is possible. A design lab often looks like an art school for engineers or an engineering school for artists. Design labs also embrace risk-taking and failure. And the best design labs are transdisciplinary, encouraging expression across the arts, sciences, and humanities. Citizen Science Labs Citizen science labs (like Genspace in NYC) are a new and growing phenomenon in which everyday people across a wide spectrum of scientific skill and knowledge participate in science classes, projects and research. The experience of a citizen science lab is democratic, inclusive, and fueled by participants’ interest in learning from other points of view. Another key element of citizen science is the way in which it encourages all the disciplines to learn from scientific discovery and explore ways in which each discipline might innovate using emerging science.

What is Future Earth Academy?

Future Earth Academy is a departure from industrial era models of education. It is a new model that invites high school aged learners to amplify and accelerate engagement in the real world through direct mentorship by practitioners in emerging fields and technologies. Learners have voice and choice in what issues they engage and how, and all activity is guided by purpose, ethics and a custodial responsibility for community and biosphere. The Academy is rooted in biotech, with strong emphasis on human connection, empathy, cross-cultural sharing and collaboration. The Academy launched in virtual reality as a beta program in January 2021 with 13 learners carefully recruited to represent diverse global perspectives. Learn more about the VR Beta here. Once it is "COVID-safe" to do so, the Academy will open in its physical location in Brooklyn, New York. The remote version of the Academy will also run as a full-time program seamlessly integrated with the activities at the physical location, inviting a dynamic and unprecedented global collaboration among students worldwide.

How much does it cost?

There is no cost to the learner. This is because we believe that education as a commodity promotes social stratification and prejudice. When a family's ability to pay is irrelevant, the pool of applicants can be truly diverse and applicants can be considered strictly for fit with the mission and priorities of the program. What is more, once in the program, learners know that the criteria for admission was equal for all and that economic status played no part in selection. The cost of the program is born by Sponsors who support the mission of the organization and the criteria for the recruitment and selection of learners. Learn more about Sponsorship here.

Where do graduates go after completion?

Each learner is supported by two Opportunity Counselors. One advises the learner based on traditional postsecondary pathways (e.g., college). This counselor has substantial experience as an admissions officer in a top-tier university and guides learners in how to document and communicate their experiences in ways that are acceptable for traditional institutions. The other counselor advises the learner on alternatives to postsecondary education. This counselor is a respected practitioner in biotech or related fields with a demonstrated history of success as a result of choosing alternatives to postsecondary education. An alternative scenario to postsecondary may be to intern with a biotech lab after 2 years with Future Earth Academy, then return to the Academy, then join an entrepreneurial venture, then return to the Academy as a Field Mentor. Both counselors support students throughout the course of their experience in the school, guiding the student in key choices, documentation and outreach to traditional institutions or networks.

What is the curriculum?

The curriculum is project-based and defined by the needs and priorities of the community where the physical school is located, whether the learner is attending school on-site or remotely.

In the case of the first Future Earth Academy, the curriculum centers around the custodianship and sustainable development of the community - Gowanus, Brooklyn - as it navigates gentrification, Superfund site cleanup, and the environmental impact expected from climate change.

In this context, the broad curriculum project categories include (but are not limited to):

  • Sustainable urban design

  • Toxic waste cleanup

  • Gentrification and community impact (social, political, economic)

  • Historic preservation of the environment and architecture

Field Mentors (practitioners in biotech and related fields, emerging STEM, and/or fields related to the above categories) work with learners to brainstorm project ideas.

Learners are encouraged to explore each project through a variety of lenses, including those of science, the arts, journalism, sociology, economics, history and more.

All learners are involved in this process - those at the physical location in Gowanus and those participating remotely. They work together to identify ways in which the conditions in Gowanus parallel those in the communities of the remote learners.

For example, they may determine that water quality is an issue common to each learner's environment and so develop a project that invites learners in Gowanus and those across the globe to collaborate on this issue. Everyone benefits from seeing how the results of their research and application compare.

Sample projects might include:

* water remediation/treatment

* sewage, wastewater and bioenergy

* genetics and habitat restoration

* native flora preservation

* ecologies and sustainable development

* population density and multispecies habitats

Find a more detailed Curriculum Framework here.

What is a typical day?

Below are typical daily activities. Times vary depending on the work taking place and the opportunities for field experience or public interaction, but most activity is planned at least 3-4 weeks in advance. Some opportunities arise with less notice, and schedules are adjusted accordingly.

An Academy-wide online weekly schedule governs all collaborative work, mentor appointments and office hours, participation in community events (e.g., public meetings), "house responsibilities" (e.g., cleaning up common spaces) and group social outings. This schedule includes all remote and on-campus activities.

With the support of SEMs, learners create their own personal weekly schedules for individual pursuits or self-directed learning.

On a typical day...

...some learners gather at a work site (in VR, in the field or on campus) to work with one or more Field Mentors on an application (e.g., testing water samples).

...some learners work alone (remotely or on campus) on their own self-determined path or on a special task related to the larger team’s current work. ...Social Emotional Mentors (SEMs) float (in VR, out in the field or on campus) to observe learners at work, make notes for Field Mentors, and generally stay aware of how learners are doing alone and as teams. SEMs have a schedule of regular sit-downs with learners to support their ongoing growth and contribution. ...most on-campus learners interact with local community members in some way, e.g., grabbing a slice at a local pizza place, attending a community meeting, holding a public workshop on campus, doing a presentation for students/teachers at a nearby public school. ...all on-campus learners have “house responsibility” for managing the campus facility (labs, workspaces, social spaces, gardens/farms, etc.). They “police” themselves on these responsibilities with regular forums. SEMs will have trained everyone in this practice during orientation. ...some learners may be working on fundamental skills not supported by the overall curriculum (language, math, basic science, cultural acclimation) and will take time to learn these using a wide variety of tools. SEMs are there to support and facilitate resources if needed, but learners also help each other. ...on campus, the evenings are often used for outings throughout the region, taking advantage of the endless intellectual, artistic, recreational spaces of NYC. SEMs support this social activity by building awareness, populating a social calendar, making introductions and nurturing healthy cross-cultural relationships.

What technologies, applications or technical skills will learners explore?

A priority of the Academy is putting emerging technologies in the hands of young learners to amplify and accelerate their opportunities for contribution to current issues and to invite them to the bigger "conversation" around how these technologies are, should and could be used. Of course, our aim is also to equip learners with practical skills in existing technologies, tools they can use daily in their work. We consider emerging technologies and applications to include: Biotech applications, such as CRISPR, synthetic genomes, and 3D bioprinting Nanotechnology such as solar panels, sustainable packaging and graphene batteries Electron microscope (live and in VR) 4D printing Blockchain Quantum computing and programming Agricultural technology such as biometrics and vertical designs Mycelium We consider these to be more practical technologies used in daily work: Virtual and augmented reality, including 360 cameras and programming General coding and programming Web design / graphic design / animation Digital filmmaking 3D printing Robotics and computer electronics (e.g, building one's own devices)

What non-tech related skills can a learner expect to develop?

Global mindset Transdisciplinary collaboration Communication Community-building Strategic activism Time management Project management Lab management

Who are the faculty and what are their qualifications?


The Director leads the entire organization, remote and campus-based. This is the visionary leader who nurtures a cohesive, collaborative community across all members of Future Earth Academy. The Director also facilitates connections and relationships for the Academy with the wider world, including academic, non-profit, for-profit and governmental organizations. This individual brings significant experience leading youth-based organizations, a solid STEM foundation and a career built on a vast cross-disciplinary network of professional relationships.

Remote Learning Director

The Remote Learning Director leads the remote program, providing visionary guidance in the use of immersive technologies and remote approaches to learning. This leader works closely with the Director and SEMs to ensure that the remote program is consistent with the campus program in supporting the core Future Earth Academy elements. The Remote Learning Director gives particular attention to the power of immersive tech to nurture empathy and cross-cultural relationships. This leader has substantial experience in immersive tech and its application to learning.

Opportunity Counselor (Traditional)

The Traditional Opportunity Counselor advises the learner based on traditional postsecondary pathways (e.g., college). This counselor has substantial experience as an admissions officer in a top-tier university and guides learners in how to document and communicate their experiences in ways that are acceptable for traditional institutions. The Non-Traditional Opportunity Counselor advises the learner on alternatives to postsecondary education. This counselor is a respected practitioner in biotech or related fields with a demonstrated history of success as a result of choosing alternatives to postsecondary education.

Social-Emotional Mentors (SEMs)

SEMs are professionally trained counselors and have significant experience facilitating youth. These mentors are with students year-round, some 24/7. SEMs play a critical role in the program, nurturing healthy relationships among learners, supporting each learner's personal growth and development, and ensuring that Field Mentors and Guest Mentors use best practices when facilitating learners in project activities.

Field Mentors

Field Mentors must currently be using one or more of the targeted emerging technologies or applications in a corporate, university, NGO, public or other highly credible environment. These mentors spend an average of 3-6 months a year in the program interacting with learners.

Guest Mentors

Guest Mentors have the same qualifications as Field Mentors but spend an average of 4-8 weeks in the program interacting with students. They visit for short periods or make single appearances when their expertise is relevant and most helpful to the phase of the work.

How is assessment done?

Assessment is first and foremost the property of the learner and is never imposed. Rather, each member of the Future Earth Academy is supported in building evaluation practices that have integrity of purpose. Here, assessment must always help learners achieve two objectives: 1) measure and document their work and growth for their own intrinsic purposes, and 2) communicate the value of their work and growth effectively with others.

Each learner is asked to define goals, which can cover fundamental academics such as language and mathematics, personal skills like perseverance or patience, executive functioning like time management or memory, or field skills like DNA sequencing or data analysis.

Some learners may wish to target skills in collaboration and facilitation, public speaking and communicating around scientific understandings, or even life balance and relationships.

Early evaluation rubrics and designs for learners are drawn from what the Student Review Panel learns about them as they move through the vetting process. There is always a direct connection between the skills and possibilities noted by the Student Review Panel and the learner's process of setting goals and evaluating progress.

SEMs, Mentors and Opportunity Counselors all work to ensure that learners always have a clear sense for how their documentation will be interpreted by postsecondary institutions and professionals in their preferred fields.