WeWork informed parents on Friday that it would no longer operate its private school in Manhattan after the 2019-20 school year, HuffPost has learned.
“WeWork will continue to operate WeGrow through the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, providing a quality education and classroom experience for all students,” a WeWork spokesperson said in a statement. “As part of the company’s efforts to focus on its core business, WeWork has informed the families of WeGrow students that we will not operate WeGrow after this school year.”
“WeWork and the families of WeGrow students are engaging in discussions with interested parties regarding plans for WeGrow for the following school year,” the spokesperson added.
The small New York City private school has been open since 2018 and costs between $22,000 and $42,000 a year in tuition, depending on the age of the student. Its website calls it a “conscious entrepreneurial school,” offering students mentorship from WeWork employees, weekly trips to a farm, daily meditation and yoga, while preaching lofty goals about nurturing students’ souls.
HuffPost spoke with several people close to the school in the past few weeks to get a better sense of the institution. They described a school that is run like the company of WeWork, subject to constant changes or “disruption,” sometimes without full consideration for the children these changes impact. However, they also described an idealistic learning space, where children for the most part seem to be happy and thriving. According to one former employee, the company recently redesigned part of the school, which they speculated cost up to several million dollars (a spokesperson for WeWork did not respond to questions about this).
The school is a casualty of the company’s new efforts to downsize after the implosion of its planned public offering and a staggering reduction in its valuation. The past few weeks have been chaotic for the company, which rents out shared workspaces to businesses and entrepreneurs. Its CEO and co-founder Adam Neumann stepped down and there are rumors of mass layoffs that could impact thousands of employees.
Amid the chaos, WeGrow parents wondered whether the school would even make it through the year, lining up backup options in case of an abrupt shuttering.
“Parents and administrators are exploring all options to keep WeGrow open,” said parent Jessica Ducroux on Friday morning.
The school was the brainchild of WeWork co-founder and chief brand and impact officer Rebekah Neumann, who served as the school’s CEO before stepping down from her roles at the company with her husband, Adam. Indeed, WeGrow mimicked WeWork, as the school’s day to day was sometimes rejiggered on short notice, which could be incompatible with the needs of children, sources said.
The WeWork spokesperson did not comment on this characterization of school life at WeGrow. A representative for the Neumanns did not immediately have comment.
But by its second year, the school’s enrollment had grown to about 100 students, including a number of children whose parents worked for the company. In 2018, Rebekah Neumann called the school ― and the ability to bring company employees closer to their children ― part of WeWork’s core goals, according to CNN.
“We want to make a world where people can work to make a life and not just a living, but that’s part of a larger, more holistic mission to elevate the world’s consciousness, to create a world where people are happy and fulfilled and living in a sharing state,” she said.
Indeed, the school employs staffers with titles like “creative expressions manager” and “manager of wisdom cultures.”
In recent weeks, teachers have worked to shield kids from the disarray enveloping the larger company, according to a WeGrow parent. This parent praised the school for nurturing children’s social-emotional development, as opposed to perpetuating a rat race focused on test scores and achievement, and worries that the school’s true successes ― its focus on mindfulness and community building ― will be overshadowed by schadenfreude over WeWork’s shortcomings.
The school ― like WeWork spaces ― emphasizes design, and is complete with “modular classrooms, tree houses and a vertical farm,” per the school’s website.
WeGrow is one of WeWork’s auxiliary offerings. The company also rents out furnished apartments and has a gym.
Rebekah Neumann appears to have had high ambitions for the institution, previously telling CNN that she hoped a WeGrow would operate in every city where there’s a WeWork office.
“It will eventually be able to sustain independently for sure,” she said at the time.