Camping and field trips; progressive approach
May not appeal to those seeking a traditional curriculum
Launched in 2010, Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School (MELS) is a progressive school that sends its students out across the city and beyond, and brings in experts to give science, history and other subjects real-life relevance.
The school is the brainchild of co-principals Pat Finley and Damon McCord, who wanted to provide Queens middle and high school students with an education that’s not focused on textbooks. MELS is one of a dozen schools in New York City run in partnership with NYC Outward Bound.
Projects are interdisciplinary. For example, 6th-graders collected pollution data (building math skills) and studied different types of engines (using science) as part of a project on how to build a better taxicab. They then designed engines, with help from Cooper Union students. In a project entitled Invaders, children learned about Genghis Khan in social studies and invasive species in science. As part of their work, students mapped and trapped the invasive Asian longhorn beetle in parks.
MELS is a 6th-to-12th-grade school, Finley stressed. Teachers have time to aim for depth over breadth. “We try to structure everything in our curriculum with a long-term view of learning,” he said.
Fieldwork is a given in many classes. Students may visit Wall Street as part of Algebra II & Trigonometry, or Google to study workspace design. An English class prepared interviews they would conduct with immigrants before visiting an immigration center.
The school focuses on character development. Every student is a member of a “crew” that meets daily, consisting of about 16 classmates and a teacher. One of the most anticipated crew events is a four-day backpacking trip for 6th-graders that includes ropes courses and an overnight hike.
The school is proud of its mix of Asian, black, Hispanic and white students from all walks of life. “I don’t think there’s an unscreened school that is more diverse,” Finley said. “We keep our kids and have high rates of success moving them out of high school and beyond.” More than 90 percent of 8th-graders stay for high school, including one who was admitted to Stuyvesant but chose to stay at MELS.
Some parents may worry that the field experiences could come at the expense of more traditional work. One indication of this may be the low-average scores on the state math exam in middle school. Finley believes this type of learning works well with all students but said, “It may not be the choice for all families,” such as those looking for a “more traditional model that focuses on test scores.”
By the time kids graduate, most are ready for college-level work. The co-principals think this is due to the school's emphasis on literacy and delving deeper into subjects, including science and history. “In middle school we’re not doubling up English and math [periods] because that’s where testing is,” Finley said. “We want our kids thinking as historians and scientists too.”
The school grapples with how to mesh Regents requirements and Advanced Placement classes with field experiences. “AP has a very different view of kids and learning,” Finley said, “but we do think it’s important to try.” High school students do a bit less fieldwork than middle school students.
MELS has a healthy selection of sports and arts, and an award-winning high school speech and debate team that has gone to state and national competitions.
The Queens Metropolitan campus in Forest Hills is bright and inviting. MELS shares the building with Queens Metropolitan High School and a District 75 school for students with disabilities.
Graduates have been admitted to a wide variety of colleges that reflect the range of academic strengths of students. “We have a child who got a full ride to Rensselaer, and an early admit to Yale, learning alongside students who are not scoring as high on standardized tests,” Finley said. “We do work to serve all types of students.”
SPECIAL EDUCATION: MELS offers team teaching classes and services for special education students in regular classes. Students in self-contained classes participate in crew, art and physical education with the general education students, and do some expeditions with them.
ADMISSIONS: The middle school is open to District 28 students. Priority goes to Queens residents. The school strongly recommends a visit first to make sure the school is a good fit. “If you don’t want your child to go on a four-day backpacking trip, it’s not the school for you,” Finley said. (Lydie Raschka, interview and web reports, June 2018)
Safety & Vibe
Faculty & Staff
Computer ScienceNot offered in 2019-20
Advanced Foreign Language
AP/IB Arts, English, History or Social Science
AP/IB Math or Science
Programs & AdmissionsFrom the 2021 High School Directory
Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School
OfferingsFrom the 2021 High School Directory
Advanced Placement (AP) courses
AP English Literature and Composition, AP Biology, AP Calculus AB
Boys PSAL teams
Baseball, Basketball, Cross Country, Indoor Track, Outdoor Track, Soccer, Volleyball, Wrestling
Girls PSAL teams
Basketball, Cross Country, Indoor Track, Outdoor Track, Soccer, Softball, Swimming, Volleyball
Coed PSAL teams
Contact & Location
91-30 Metropolitan Avenue
Forest Hills NY 11375
Buses: BM5, Q11, Q21, Q23, Q52-SBS, Q53-SBS, Q54, Q55, QM12, QM15, QM42
This school shares the Metropolitan Educational Campus with two other schools