The Design Works High School in Downtown Brooklyn welcomed its inaugural class of ninth graders on September 7 following a years-long collaboration between Pratt Institute and Bank Street College of Education as part of New York City’s Imagine NYC Schools Initiative.

“The Design Works High School will develop the next generation of thoughtful experimenters, creative citizens, and critical thinkers,” said Pratt Institute President Frances Bronet. “It’s been tremendously exciting to partner with Bank Street College of Education to launch a new public school where young people in Brooklyn can work across design and making disciplines. Their informed investigation and implementation will prepare them to navigate a rapidly changing world and truly make an impact.”

With funding from the XQ Institute, NewSchools Venture Fund, and the NYC Public Schools, Pratt and Bank Street developed a school that combines the power of design-thinking with the importance of social justice, preparing students for college and careers, while empowering them to become changemakers in their communities. Reflecting a shared commitment to building a more equitable and inclusive world through education, the partnership unites Pratt’s academic excellence in art and design, as well as its history of engagement with K-12 learning and the local community, with Bank Street’s strengths-based, learner-centered approach to teaching and learning.

“At Bank Street, we believe that all students learn best when they are actively engaged with materials, ideas, and people, and that authentic growth requires diverse and nurturing opportunities for ongoing social, emotional, and cognitive growth. We are proud to partner with Pratt and New York City Public Schools to launch Design Works High School and help a new generation of high school students develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in school and in life,” said Shael Polakow-Suransky, President, Bank Street College of Education.

A team drawn from different areas of Pratt—including leadership from the Center for Art, Design, and Community Engagement K-12; the School of Design; the School of Art; the Provost’s Office; and the Office of Research & Strategic Partnerships—helped guide Design Works through planning, community engagement, and design phases.

Initial brainstorming sessions with Pratt faculty, students, and staff drew on the Institute’s expertise in design, participatory practice, K-12 curriculum development, interdisciplinary studies, activism, and practical problem solving to envision how the new school could look, feel, and function. Listening sessions with parents and students showed interest in areas of importance for the community such as a desire to create an educational approach that prepares students to succeed in a complex future and become social justice leaders in their communities.

The Design Works curriculum revolves around hands-on, collaborative projects that confront real problems in communities. Dedicated engagement with professionals, along with internships and apprenticeships, will help students develop in-demand skills, creating a talent pipeline for STEAM careers. As students progress, they’ll get a deeper understanding of how a design education opens up numerous, flexible ways of working and flourishing in the world.

As part of the curriculum, students can pursue pathways of learning with a focus on art equity, tech equity, and housing equity. Grounded in Bank Street’s developmental-interaction framework, Design Works educators will create project-based, hands-on learning experiences connected to students’ real lives. The school’s interdisciplinary approach will help students learn how to solve complex problems, adapt to changes, and build a more equitable world while preparing them for academic success and meaningful careers.

Students will have a variety of learning opportunities as their studies unfold. One class might meet with an architect to think through affordable housing expansion in Brooklyn, while another might explore dance meant to heal trauma. A different class might research how to help neighborhoods equitably adapt to climate change.

“I can’t wait to support and get to know our students this fall,” said Design Works High School Project Director Corinth Hunter. “My entire career has been focused on putting my students first, both as a teacher and administrator in New York City Public Schools and in my work as an educational consultant and advocate. I know that the culture of learning, exploration, collaboration, and care that we’re building at Design Works will allow each student to thrive inside and out of the classroom.”

Design Works occupies a new building in Downtown Brooklyn.

The school’s website—designed by Pratt’s School of Design students led by Adjunct Assistant Professor of Communications Design Diego Kolsky—provides more background information and a sense of the day-to-day experience.

The Design Works High School came out of the Imagine NYC Schools competition that first started in 2019. This process enabled educators and community members to propose learning environments for the 21st century. As Design Works develops, Pratt and Bank Street will take a more advisory role in governance.

Now, the students of Design Works High School will have a chance to design the future they want to see.

Updated: September 7, 2023