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Out-class! New biz hosts lessons in yards, living rooms, and rooftops - Brooklyn Paper

Out-class! New biz hosts lessons in yards, living rooms, and rooftops

Education station: David Kurfirst and Chris Zumtobel started “Think Olio” to give educators free reign to teach topics they are passionate about to enthusiastic learners for a profit.
Photo by Jason Speakman

These teachers are telling tales out of school.

A new Bedford-Stuyvesant business is offering off-the-clock educators a chance to pursue their true passions — and earn some extra cash — by teaching one-off classes in living rooms, coffee shops, and backyards around the borough, and the lecturers really let loose when they escape their classrooms, say the founders.

“It gives them the sort of freedom to teach on other things and just have fun teaching,” said David Kurfirst, who founded the outfit — dubbed Think Olio — with fellow City University of New York student and Bedford–Stuyvesant resident Chris Zumtobel earlier this year. “This lets them kind of go crazy with it, without restrictions.”

Educators pitch Think Olio — an “olio” is a random collection of art and literature — with an idea for a class on the topic of their choosing, and if Kurfirst and Zumtobel like their concept, the pair help them find a venue and sell tickets online, which usually range from $15 to $35.

The model has produced some truly singular seminars — in May, a comparative religion teacher gave a talk on the fall of the Berlin Wall in a garden in Park Slope, and in July a philosophy professor led a discussion on “Star Trek” at an apartment in Bushwick.

Kurfirst and Zumtobel met while pursuing degrees in their college’s Unique Studies program, which lets students craft their own major out of a hodgepodge of interests. The duo say they first dreamed up the scheme as a way to help out their favorite adjunct professors, whose day jobs were barely paying the bills.

“I tried to think about other ways they could use their talents and not have to pick up dog-walking jobs,” said Kurfirst. “They’re teachers, and what they’re meant to be doing is teaching.”

But the instructors say Think Olio offers them more than just extra dough — it also gives them a chance to break free from the shackles of curriculums and classrooms.

“To be able to go in there with no curriculum, no have-to-cover topics, no mandatory anything — it’s very free,” said Angela Hernandez, a Spanish teacher at Kingsborough Community College who teaches Dominican cooking classes through Think Olio.

Hernandez, a longtime Flatbush resident, ran her latest lesson in a home kitchen, where she says students were able to get a hands-on experience with Dominican culture and cuisine.

“That’s what I really, ultimately want — they’re learning, they’re absorbing, and they’ll practice it at home,” said Hernandez, who is teaching her next cooking class at a Crown Heights art gallery on Sept. 10.

Past olio attendees also love the laid-back learning environment, and say hob-nobbing with other class-goers is part of the appeal.

“I think the coolest thing about it is you get to meet other people that are interested in the same thing,” said Gea Pasci, a Park Sloper who has attended a workshop on travel photography and a talk on the origins of life. “It’s kind of like you meet a new network of people that you have something in common with.”

Really eager students can also offer up their own homes or businesses as future class venues, in exchange for a free seat at the session and a cut of the profits.

Brief Taste of Dominican Republic at Nowhere Studios [1582 Atlantic Ave. between Albany and Kingston avenues in Crown Heights, (917) 293–4008, www.thinkolio.org]. Sept. 10 at 7 pm. $25.

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.

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