If you’re the parent of a curious, science-minded kid, chances are you know Carmelo Piazza — or, more likely, you know his alter ego, Carmelo the Science Fellow, who has been sharing the wonders of our natural world with children for the past decade in camps, classes, and now a preschool.
Carmelo opened the first Brooklyn Preschool of Science last year in Boerum Hill, and he’s getting ready to open the second right here in Park Slope. To be located at 65 Park Place, the space will be welcoming its first students in the 2015-16 school year, and is currently accepting applications.
To help introduce him to parents who may not be familiar with him yet, we asked Carmelo a few questions about his background in teaching, how being a parent himself has influenced his work, what makes his school different, and more.
PSS: Tell us a bit about your background — how did you go from an elementary school teacher to the head of after-school and camp programs to running a preschool? And what inspired you to work with kids in the first place?
Carmelo the Science Fellow: I have been a public school science teacher at PS 261 for the past 17 years. During this time, I have taught thousands of children from ages 4 to 11 years old. It was early on when I realized the effectiveness of science as a natural motivator in teaching other key subjects.
My “out of this world” lair is the Cosmic Cove in Brooklyn where I have taught tens of thousands of kids over the last 10 years. It’s my home away from home and headquarters for my large collection of creatures including Blue tongue skinks, Crested Geckos, Bearded Dragon, King Snakes, and Madagascar Roaches.
Believe it or not, I hated science growing up. There was nothing fun about watching my teacher lecture with slides on the projector. That all changed when I took a Science Methodology course in college which used a hands on approach.
I am the father of three girls — Amanda, 13, Riley, 5 and Cassidy, 3 — and an amazing 6-month-old boy named Ryan. I work with my wife, Karen, who is an early childhood education teacher. I’m passionate about teaching kids. When people ask me how I’ve been so successful, I tell them — be true, be innovative, and be funny.
You just started the second year of the Brooklyn Preschool of Science — what are a few things you learned in your first year?
I learned that being a director of a preschool is a lot of work, but very rewarding. I get to teach all of the children in my school as the science specialist. This gets me to work hand-in-hand with my students, know each child individually, and yet model my teaching style to my staff.
I also get to show my amazing staff my philosophy and vision of what I want my school to look like. I realized how important it is for me to model my teaching strategies to my staff. It is then amazing to see my staff incorporate my ideas and methodologies into their classes.
What made you decide to expand, and why did you chose Park Slope for your next location?
I am opening up my second location in Park Slope because many of my students who attend my after-school classes, summer camps, and parties are Park Slope families. I really want to give back to the community, especially after what many of the families have done for me. My dream has always been to create a place where science is at the core of the curriculum. This expansion will make my dream come to fruition.
What makes your school different from some of the other preschools parents in Park Slope may be choosing between?
I know some of you are asking what are the benefits of a science-based preschool or how is this different than the existing preschools in the community? Why the Brooklyn Preschool of Science?
- Science connects easily to other areas, including language, center-based play, math, artistic expression, and social studies.
- Children’s everyday experiences are the foundation of science.
- Open-ended science activities involve children at a wide range of development levels.
- Science responds to children’s needs to learn about the world around them.
- Hands-on science activities let teachers observe and respond to children’s individual strengths and needs.
- Creates a love of bio-diversity with a range of amazing animals.
My idea is why not focus the play around the sciences, where the kids are scaffolding concepts? And in my first year, parents are coming up to me and saying, “I can’t believe my 4-year-old is learning about viscosity?”
Are the kids who end up in your school already excited about science, or do you think kids who are just open and curious can get into it through your school, as well?
Parents are telling me their kids are very scientific. They question everything. “Why is the sky blue?” “Why is the grass green?” The parents who do send their kids here are sending them because their kids are that type of little scientist, little inquiry-based thinkers. Very analytical and critical. Even though they are 3 and 4, there are kids who just question everything. And the curriculum here fosters that. You are allowed to create questions. You are allowed to make mistakes. That is the beauty of the science-based curriculum. It is all about trial and error.
Has being a parent had any influence on your work? In what ways?
Becoming a parent really made me become a better teacher and director. I can see how different my children are, that all kids learn at different levels, that all kids have different anxieties. I have a true understanding of what my families are going through, and what my kids are experiencing.
Is there anything else you’d like neighbors to know?
My school will be an amazing addition to the community. My school will cultivate the inner scientists in all children. It will introduce a love of bio-diversity, and meet the needs of the little scientists in the community.
The Brooklyn Preschool of Science will be located at 65 Park Place, between 5th and 6th Avenues, and will open in September 2015. To tour the 7,000-square-foot space, which Carmelo says features “two really fun outdoor areas,” or to register for the school, visit his site for more info.
All photos courtesy Carmelo the Science Fellow.