In the halls of the highly celebrated Scarsdale schools, it seems unlikely to find kids who aren’t gunning for entrance to Harvard. But they do exist. Just ask Rob Kissner. Though the 28-year-old is today the successful entrepreneur behind The Digital Arts Experience (a technology and digital arts enrichment center in White Plains), he was a highly unmotivated student in high school.
That all changed when Kissner began attending the Scarsdale Alternative School and met math teacher Linda Rich. The “A-School,” as its called—a satellite of Scarsdale High School, housed in a separate building on the school grounds—provides small classes and a personal, community-based approach to education; it’s the kind of place where students address teachers by their first names. For Kissner, it was exactly the environment needed to pull him out of his educational funk.
“I had Linda for math from sophomore through senior year, and, when we first started working together, I really struggled to connect with the class material. I didn’t care about math, so I just didn’t want to do the work,” Kissner recalls. As a junior, he took pre-Calculus in a class with six other students who were all seniors. Because seniors at the A-School spend the last six weeks of school working on a senior project, Kissner was the only one left in the class. So he and Rich met in her office each day; the intensive one-on-one teaching helped Kissner master the material and enabled him to go on to AP Calculus during the next year.
“It was such a relaxed way to learn. Linda was really low-key and created a non-traditional vibe that really resonated with me. She made the material relevant,” Kissner says. “I finally cared about math and it made me feel confident that I could focus and do the necessary work even for topics I wasn’t particularly interested in.”
The one-on-one environment “didn’t allow Rob to continue to be mediocre,” notes Rich, who has been teaching at Scarsdale High School since 1986. “He couldn’t hide, as he could have in a bigger class.”
Today, Kissner counts that personal educational philosophy as crucial to the success of his business. The classes taught at the DAE are small (six or seven kids, maximum) and focused on collaborative learning—just like at the A-School. “When I worked with Linda, the teacher-student status quo was broken down and I was made to feel we were on an even playing field. And that is what we do now in our classes,” he says.