Across the curriculum, units are organized around themes with culminating projects that enable students to craft their own question and require substantial reading, writing, and revision. Teachers stress depth over breadth, encourage substantial class discussions, and make writing a routine part of class, even in math.
In Division 1, students take a two-credit humanities class taught by one teacher, combining English and history. Some units are thematic. For example, when students are studying and researching the Holocaust, they are also reading Night by Elie Wiesel. At other times, English and history may be taught as separate subjects but connected by a central question. A similar approach is used for science and mathematics.
Teachers use materials developed by the Algebra Project at Harvard University. Typically, students come together around a shared experience in the physical world that guides a unit of study. In the words of a veteran math teacher, “Students have to move from how people describe the world to pulling out what are the features that are important for us to describe what we're describing, and then the abstract representations of the mathematics. From people, to features, to math.” For instance, students take a trip together, describe it in a “trip line,” and are guided to “mathematize” their experience in studying integers and vectors.
The schoolwide curriculum for advisory addresses study skills, health, safety, social issues, community service, “restorative circles,” and preparation for college and careers. The school works closely with College Access: Research and Action (CARA:NYC) on its college exploration curriculum.
Use of Technology
As principal Jeff Palladino explained in a Washington Post article: “Using iPads to teach literacy to create asynchronous classrooms so students can read different books at their own pace and work on student-teacher-decided literacy goals has assisted us in giving students ownership over their reading. Transitioning from paper portfolios to digital portfolios has been very beneficial to students, families, and staff. Students are now able to have a collection of their best work throughout their four years of high school in one digital site. Students and families can access this work at any time; it is a powerful archive of student learning and achievement.”
Two Division II teachers are trained in and teach courses designed by the City University of New York (CUNY) to prepare students for college-level reading and writing. Students also have opportunities to take college courses at New York University and Hostos Community College.
Teaching Reading to Secondary Students
Fannie Lou has created an iBook with text and video demonstrating how teachers diagnose and address their students' issues with decoding, fluency, and comprehension. It can be downloaded for free here.
Division I (9th and 10th grade)
This is a schedule for approximately 25 9th- and 10th-graders who travel together all day. Their classrooms, including the gymnasium, are only a few steps away from each other so there is no need for passing time. Each student group has a different class-change schedule so there is never congestion in the hallway.
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Division II (11th and 12th grade)
Unlike Division I, students do not travel in cohorts, and they have a different teacher for each subject. However, like Division I, two grades are mixed and students stay with the same teachers for two years in a two-year nonsequential curriculum. Classes are held on a different floor so students from the two divisions never mix in the hallways.
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Because of a special waiver from the state, the school only gives one state exam, in English language arts, as a graduation requirement. Not giving state tests in science, social studies, and math has freed the school up to emphasize depth over breadth in content coverage and sustained effort and revision over timed tests. The main forms of high-stakes assessments are written projects and oral presentation of those projects. In addition to completing and presenting projects every semester in every subject, students must present and defend a portfolio to move from Division I to Division II. Graduating seniors complete seven “mastery” papers. Four of these papers, in math, social studies, science, and English, are judged with state-approved rubrics used by a group of schools called the New York Performance Assessment Consortium.
As the school has grown larger, due to overcrowding in the Bronx, some adjustments have been made to ease the paper burden on teachers and advisors — focusing less on documenting progress over time and more on mastery. However, recent digitization of the portfolio process has made it easier to collect and examine more work.
Most of the students who enroll in college immediately after graduation attend branches of the City University of New York (CUNY). The high school has an arrangement with CUNY for students to prepare for and take the CUNY entrance examinations necessary to place out of remedial courses while they are still high school seniors.
The following is a description of the school’s 10th- and 12th-grade portfolios from the school’s website:
The Language Portfolio
In the 9th and 10th grades, students complete a language portfolio each semester. Work for this portfolio is based on the exhibition projects completed in each course, reflecting the learning goals and essential questions for that class. Pieces for this portfolio will require work both within and outside of class and are to be submitted in revised, final form. Each 10th-grade student will present his/her language portfolio, as a whole, at the end of the 10th grade for evaluation by committee in order to advance to the 11th grade. Tenth-grade portfolios are due in January and must be presented to the student’s portfolio committee during the Spring Family Conference. In order to present, a student must have completed the portfolio with revisions and practiced their oral presentation in their advisory.
The Graduation Portfolio
In the 11th and 12th grades, students complete mastery and reflection work in seven different content areas. For each area, students will produce a major project designed to demonstrate advanced content and skill understanding. Mastery projects will not attempt to cover all material studied, but are designed to reflect an in-depth understanding of a particular issue in the context of the overall discipline and incorporation of the Habits of Mind and work. Although these projects will generally be undertaken within the classroom with the support of the teacher, they will also require a significant amount of independent work, with an eye toward college expectations.
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