Inside an exclusive, $56,000-a-year NYC private school, where Wall Street execs and tech millionaires send their kids and every student gets a MacBook and an iPad

Katie Warren/Business InsiderAbout 1,650 students attend Avenues.

Avenues: The World School is a private school in New York City for nursery through 12th grade that costs $US56,400 per year.

Avenues operates campuses in New York City, Sao Paolo, Brazil, and Shenzhen, China. The New York campus was the first to open in 2012, but Avenues plans to build campuses in at least 20 cities in the next decade, including Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Dubai, Hong Kong, London, Miami, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and Singapore. Avenues wants to be thought of as “one school with many interconnected and interdependent campuses located in the world’s leading cities,” according to the website.

Parents of Avenues children reportedly range from hedge-fund managers and entrepreneurs to tech millionaires and celebrities. Suri Cruise, the daughter of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, reportedly attended the school.

Students at Avenues are given MacBooks and iPads, take yoga and dance classes, and graduate fluent in either Mandarin or Spanish.

Tuition includes all books and materials, field trips, transportation to and from school activities, lunch, snacks, athletic uniforms, and educational technology such as the Apple products.

I took a tour of the New York City campus in Chelsea with Alissa Dufour, the school’s communication director. Here’s what it looked like.

Avenues: The World School is a private school in New York City for nursery through 12th grade that costs $US56,400 per year.

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The 1,650 students come from all over Manhattan, parts of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Hoboken and Jersey City, and even from as far as Long Island and Western Connecticut – often because their parents already commute into the city, according to David Buckwald, the director of admissions.

Parents of Avenues children range from hedge-fund managers and entrepreneurs to tech millionaires and celebrities. Suri Cruise, the daughter of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, reportedly attended the school.

Avenues also attracts international families who are living in New York and who perhaps have multiple citizenships, Buckwald said.

The school is in Chelsea, an affluent Manhattan neighbourhood just south of Hudson Yards, the city’s new $US25 billion development.

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Avenues operates campuses in New York City, Sao Paolo, Brazil, and Shenzhen, China.

The New York campus was the first to open in 2012, but Avenues plans to build campuses in at least 20 cities in the next decade, including Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Dubai, Hong Kong, London, Miami, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and Singapore.

Students can also take online courses.

“One [of our students] is a pre-Olympic athlete, one is starring on Broadway, and they’re able to take a semester leave of absence but stay enrolled in Avenues through our online campus,” Buckwald said.

Chelsea, an area known for its art galleries, is one of the city’s wealthier and more expensive neighbourhoods.

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The median household income in Chelsea is $US111,665, as compared to $US60,762 citywide.

And the median sale price in Chelsea in 2019 was $US1.2 million, according to Property Shark.

Approximately 16% of students at Avenues receive financial aid, Buckwald told me, and the school provided more than $US9 million in financial aid for the 2018-19 school year.

Avenues, I noticed, is right across the street from public housing, the Chelsea-Elliot Houses.

I visited Avenues last spring for a tour of its campus and to speak to the admissions director.

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Avenues is a highly selective school and uses a holistic admissions process, which means they “look at many components of an application or a candidacy in context with each other and not necessarily relying on one piece more than another or looking at some kind of a formula to predict admissions decisions,” David Buckwald, the director of admissions, told me.

The school does not release its admissions rate.

This is the main entrance where students enter the school.

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To apply to Avenues, prospective students and parents submit an online application and a $US100 fee. The rest of the process varies by grade level.

For students in nursery, pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and first grade, Avenues conducts small playgroups to assess potential students, where they watch how students play when they’re unsupervised and how they take directions.

After telling security I had an appointment, I checked in at the front desk and waited to be picked up the school’s communications director, Alissa Dufour.

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If a student is entering Avenues in high school – grades nine through 12 – admissions conducts a conversation with the student.

For the middle grades, Avenues implements what it calls “design challenges,” where a potential student is paired up with another applicant at the same level and asked to create an object from random materials provided. During this challenge, the admissions team is looking for signs of empathy, creativity, resourcefulness, collaboration, and a willingness to ask questions.

“We learn a lot about the student and if they may be a good fit here,” Buckwald said.

Near the front entrance of the school is Restore, a café where students can grab breakfast, lunch, snacks, pastries and sweets, and hot and cold beverages throughout the school day.

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The café is open to parents, faculty, staff, and visitors from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Parents and students pay by swiping their ID badges.

The school also has its own gift shop selling Avenues swag, which was closed at the time of my visit.

A collection of TV screens displayed school announcements, events, and the weather in Sao Paulo, the school’s Brazil campus.

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Avenues puts a heavy focus on technology.

Students in kindergarten through fifth grade are issued an iPad Air, grades 6-9 are given a MacBook Air, and grades 10-12 receive both a MacBook Air and an iPad.

Starting in sixth grade, students can take the devices home with them.

The cafeteria was huge and filled with light from the windows overlooking the High Line park.

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On the day of my visit, the menu included beef, California turkey, and samosa sliders with a bean mango salsa dip.

I spotted two Bevi machines in the cafeteria, which dispense still and sparkling flavored water.

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The healthy food options at the cafeteria included a salad bar, a fruit salad bar, and various fresh fruit up for grabs.

I looked at a sample Avenues lunch menu, and dishes included maple sweet potato soup, whole wheat pasta with “revved up” marinara, a miso chicken rice bowl, all-natural beef burgers with whole wheat buns, spiced sweet potato enchiladas, steamed edamame, roasted zucchini, tabbouleh salad, and organic kale salad.

We went upstairs to check out some of the classrooms, and I was surprised by the lack of individual desks in some of the rooms.

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Classes for the upper grades at Avenues are conducted in a seminar style, as they often are in colleges.

Avenues offers Spanish and Mandarin as foreign languages, and from nursery through fifth grade, half of students’ classes are taught in one of those languages.

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Students will spend one day taught completely in English and the next day immersed in Chinese or Spanish.

Avenues’ goal is to have students fluent in a second language by the time they graduate.

Looking out an upper-floor window, I spotted the High Line park below.

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“We try to push students out into the community for science experiments on the High Line,” Buckwald told me. “And the first artwork they see beside what’s in the school or on their own is right nearby in the [Chelsea] galleries. Pre-K[indergarten]ers doing gallery tours!”

At a student lounge area with a living plant wall, students were chatting, working, and playing chess.

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Avenues students don’t wear a uniform, but they do have a dress code: Students should only wear black, grey, and white.

The sports facilities at Avenues include this spacious fitness and weight room.

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It comes with weight machines, exercise balls, free weights, treadmills, and rowing machines.

There’s also a dance and yoga studio.

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Grades nine through 11 at Avenues can sign up for elective fitness classes that include spinning, boxing, yoga, dance, pilates, and martial arts.

Some fitness classes are also taught at the nearby Chelsea Park.

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I’d always imagined the main drawback of going to school in Manhattan to be the lack of outdoor space, but Avenues seems to take full advantage of nearby public spaces.

The 20,000-square-foot, full-size gymnasium is on the top floor of Avenues.

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Avenues students also have access to sports facilities at nearby Chelsea Piers.

Sports offered at Avenues include soccer, girls’ volleyball, cross-country, tennis, basketball, fencing, squash, track and field, baseball, lacrosse, golf, and crew.

There’s also a playground on the rooftop.

After touring the main building, I was led a block away on 26th Street to Avenues’ newest facility, the Early Learning Centre (ELC) & Co.Lab.

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The ELC & Co.Lab is home to nursery through kindergarten students on the lower floors, while the top floor is dedicated to grade 9-12 students in science, art, World Course, and English.

This space was home to even more greenery and living plant walls.

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All the materials in the four-floor facility were sourced from producers who prioritise sustainability and environmental accountability.

In the ELC, students eat lunch in their classrooms. The fixtures and furniture, including classroom sinks and cubbies, were chosen with the ergonomics of three to six-year-olds in mind.

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The natural carpets from renewable sources perform as air filters, reducing airborne dust and allergens, according to the website.

Outside was a spacious play area with tricycles, balls, and even mini-picnic tables.

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And just inside is a multi-purpose room for other physical activities.

There is, however, a fully equipped teaching kitchen, where teachers can conduct hands-on culinary projects with students.

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Past culinary projects have included making dumplings for the Chinese New Year, for example.

The upper floor is the Co.Lab, where upper grades have dedicated areas for STEAM subjects: science, technology, engineering, art, and maths.

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“It’s a space for students to work on interdisciplinary projects collaboratively or independently,” Dufour told me.

Students can drop in and work on projects both during and after class.

The classrooms in the Early Learning Centre feature floor-to-ceiling windows.

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The “uniquely designed ceiling treatment addresses room acoustics, height, and act as a system to hang student work as well as provide optimal lighting levels,” according to the website.

At the end of the school day, I noticed a line of shiny black cars parked outside the entrance to Avenues. Signs displayed on the windshield displayed a student’s first name and grade level.

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Dufour later told me that some students get picked up by car in the afternoon by their parents, and others by caregivers.

They sign up at the beginning of the year and are given a placard, so at the end of the school day, the teacher can read the placard and alert staff inside which child can be dismissed.

“It’s just a way to simplify the dismissal process and ensure that students get home safely,” Dufour told me.

Many students also take public transportation or ride private buses or buses through the NYC Office of Pupil Transportation, she said.

To round out my tour, I went up to the High Line to get an alternate view of Avenues. Walking past, I could peek into the cafeteria where I’d been an hour before.

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Avenues is too new of a school to have produced any notable alumni at this point. But I could immediately see why its curriculum, student experience, focus on foreign languages, international footprint – and of course, exclusivity – appeal to well-off, global-minded parents and students.

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