Marble Hill High School for International Studies
2015-2016 Model

Equal Opportunity Leads to Outstanding Results

In 2002, educators from a large, failing Bronx high school created a new and enduringly successful small school to ensure English language learners' equal access to a quality education as they studied alongside English-dominant peers. They continue to employ a strategic combination of sheltered support for ELLs in their first years with full integration later in the students' high school career while offering all students rigorous project-based instruction, high expectations, and support for meeting those expectations.

Student Population Free reduced lunch
Special Ed.
Staff / Student ratio
449 91 31 9 1/29

School Contact Info

Marble Hill High School for International Studies
99 Terrace View Avenue
8th Floor
Bronx, NY 10463
Grades: 9-12
(718) 561-0973
Principal: Kirsten Larson
Founding Principal: Iris Zucker


New York City’s massive population of adolescent immigrants from non-English-speaking countries has a double challenge: meeting increasingly rigorous high school graduation requirements  while learning a new language. Historically, adolescent English language learners have lagged far behind their English-dominant peers in graduation rates and college admissions, particularly in the impoverished Bronx. Marble Hill's founders were responsible for English language learners in a large school where only about 20% of ELLs graduated. When the New York City Department of Education, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced that it was creating small schools, they used this challenge as an opportunity to create a model that would better serve their students.


Marble Hill takes in 100-120 students per year, half fluent in English and half English language learners who speak as many as 40 different languages.  The school is permitted to screen for ELL status and home language to ensure that half of its students are in fact ELLs.  The ELLs are sheltered in the four core subjects for the first two years with one group for beginning and early intermediate English speakers and another for more advanced English learners.  The fluent English speakers also travel in groups, totally heterogeneous except for the foreign language they choose to study — Japanese or Italian.  All of the groups are offered the same curriculum, often with the same teachers, with ESL strategies employed in the ELL strands. Then, beginning in the 11th grade, all students are mixed in their courses except for ESL classes.



In the first class, 93 of the 100 students graduated in four years.  This was a remarkable achievement, particularly since, as a new school recruiting students in the late spring, the school was limited to accepting students who had not been offered a school placement in the regular admission process — students that other schools were unwilling or unable to serve. (In New York City, all students are required to apply for high school admissions and have a range of choices.)

In 2015, the four-year graduation rate was 91% (as compared to a Bronx-wide graduation rate of 62% and a citywide rate of 70%). The six-year graduation rate was 92%. Also, 62% of graduates met the city’s criteria for college readiness by meeting the City University of New York’s requirements for waiving remedial courses (as compared to 22% Bronxwide and 35% citywide). Within six months of graduation, 77% were enrolled in college or other secondary programs (as compared to 43% Bronxwide and 53% citywide). What's more, 93% of 10th-graders earned enough credits to be on track for graduation (as compared to 74% Bronxwide and 79% citywide). The NYC Department of Education gives Marble Hill its highest rating — excellent — for closing the achievement gap for both English language learners and students entering high school with the lowest state test scores, based on the percentage of students in these categories graduating in four years and graduating college-ready. By the time they reach the 12th grade, most of the ELL students (typically 80%) have tested out of ELL status, although as per state regulations, they continue to receive ESL services.


Average daily attendance is 94% for students and 96% for teachers.

Key Policy Considerations

District Policies

Marble Hill takes full advantage of a clause in the United Federation of Teachers contract allowing staff to vote on changes to work rules through what is called a School-Based Option (SBO). The main way they have adjusted the contract is to lengthen class periods to 59 minutes from the prescribed 45 minutes while still maintaining the typical limit of 1,125 minutes of classroom teaching time per week. Also, the union contract gives teachers one prep period to use as they choose and a second professional period with an assigned task negotiated with the principal. However, teachers and administrators at Marble Hill have agreed to utilize the professional period as a flexible opportunity for teacher collaboration supported by scheduling teachers for a common professional/prep period.

State Policies:

State education department regulations for serving ELLs have a major impact on hiring policies as double certification in a subject area and ESL is required for most subjects. State regulation also requires schools to continue to provide ESL services to students even after they have passed the NYSELAT test and are no longer considered ELLs.

Key Strategies

  • Sheltered ESL in the content areas for English language learners in grades 9 and 10 generally provided by teachers with dual certification in a subject and in ESL
  • Project-based instruction in all classes — with the expectation that there will be a culminating project in each class each grading period
  • Student oral presentation of portfolios of selected projects at the end of every semester
  • Activity-based math curriculum in collaboration with New Visions for Public Schools
  • Looping — frequently, with math, social studies, and English teachers following students from 9th to 10th grade and foreign language teachers looping for three years
  • A weekly afternoon of community service for every student while teachers collaborate, plan, and engage in PD
  • Highly individualized student programs in 11th and 12th grade with close attention to each student’s course credit needs and opportunities to choose from a range of AP and CUNY College Now courses.

Curriculum and Instruction

Teachers write their own curriculum, typically collaborating with colleagues.  Curricula are maintained on a school Google drive.  Key components include:.

Project-based instruction

In every subject, classwork culminates in a project, typically two per semester. Projects are intended to demonstrate mastery, build on what students have learned in class and include revision and sustained effort over time. Much of the work for the projects is done in class (especially for the ELLs in the beginning). As students progress, the work is increasingly independent. All projects have multiple tasks that build to the final deliverable. As students are completing the project, teachers collect intermediary work, which allows them to assess understanding and give students feedback to help them to create an end product that is of high quality. Much of the teachers’ curricula is geared toward the two semester projects. The lessons leading up to the end project highlight the skills necessary to complete each task to be done along the way. All projects include a set of skills that the students should be developing toward mastery.

Portfolio presentation

Every semester, every student, no matter how recently they have arrived from a non-English-speaking country, presents a portfolio to a teacher they do not necessarily know. They must explain one project from each class. The teacher reviewer receives a Google document with questions prepared by the student’s classroom teachers and a rubric for scoring each project. There is a metacognitive focus to the conversation. Students must explain not only what they learned but how they learned it. For instance, freshmen are asked to bring their notebooks with them to explain how they take notes and organize information and what result this had on their learning. Teachers who predominantly work with ELLs may be the reviewer for an English-dominant student, providing valuable insight. As the principal pointed out: “For teachers of ELLs, it is important that they remain cognizant of what the native English speakers are doing and how they are performing. Our goal is to give equal access to all students. This is difficult to do if teachers do not have a frame of reference as to what the ultimate goal for our students is. For teachers of non-ELLs, it gives them an opportunity to see how our ELL populations are doing.” All teachers get insights into areas where more attention is needed to support students in meeting common core standards — for instance, the presentation of counter-arguments came up recently as an area where teachers noticed through portfolio presentations that more work was needed.


There is a strong emphasis on students doing math through carefully designed activities with performance-based assessments at the beginning and end of every unit and a formative assessment about two-thirds into every unit to analyze student misconceptions or gaps in understanding and address them by re-engaging in material.

Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE)

Like most schools serving adolescent ELLs, Marble Hill serves a significant number of students — at least 15% — with little, if any, formal education. Strategies include the approach of sheltered ESL in the content area with all SIFE students programmed for the beginning ELL group, after-school mentoring in groups of five with a teacher who works with them on high-leverage basic skills and develops a supportive personal relationship with this small group. A Saturday Explorer program provides an opportunity for SIFE students to travel with a teacher to interesting locations in the city, often accompanied by more advanced students, and then to write about them in English. The school maintains a high-interest, low-reading-level library to support emerging literacy.


An array of student supports includes:

  • a weekly advisory class that runs the gamut from acclimation to high school to college selection
  • a three-week bridge program for incoming students, particularly those with limited English
  • Saturday test prep for state-mandated Regents exams and the SATs
  • after-school small-group mentoring for students with interrupted formal education
  • summer school with an emphasis on catching up with state testing requirements
  • A building-wide health center that provides immunizations, vision services, referrals, etc.


  • i-Mentor program — students matched to professionals whom they both meet in person and correspond with through email exchange
  • Exchange program with a school in China — with eight Marble Hill students traveling to China and Chinese students visiting Marble Hill
  • Saturday Explorers program — visiting and writing about New York City sights
  • College Now classes in English, psychology, and sociology.
  • Numerous student clubs
  • A choice of seven AP courses
  • Community service weekly

College Model

There is a full-time college counselor provided through the College Bound Initiative. All seniors take a college readiness class in the fall semester in which they research colleges, write college research papers, prepare application essays and personal statements, apply for financial aid, and assemble their college applications. Additional support for college exploration and the application process is provided in the Wednesday advisory class. The final senior portfolio is a compendium of all the artifacts they needed to compile in the college application process. It includes a 10-page college research paper, the essay they wrote for their college applications, a report on their senior community service research project, a resume, a reference from a teacher or outside contact, a summary of their process for applying to college, what colleges they chose and why as well as their final selection and why they chose that school, and their package that they received.

Course Taking

In the first two years, all students basically take the same courses. Then, in 11th and 12th grades, each student program is individualized, and students have a choice of seven different AP courses and numerous college-level courses. All juniors take a public speaking class and all seniors take a college readiness class.

Four days per week, all 9th-graders are scheduled for humanities (English and global studies), environmental science, and algebra with an extra period of humanities and algebra on one of those days. English language learners take a period of ESL back-to-back with their humanities class. Other students take either Japanese or Italian. On Wednesdays, all 9th-graders take health, advisory, and an arts course in the morning and do community service in the afternoon.


Marble Hill balances performance assessment of multiple projects and portfolio presentations each semester with outside on-demand testing. Students must pass five state-mandated Regents examinations in order to graduate. This is a challenge for students who enter as beginning ELLs — hence, the extra support provided for test prep after school, on Saturdays, and in summer school. ELLs are entitled to extra time and dictionaries. If the exam has been translated into their first language, they generally take the exam in English but use the translation as a resource. Beyond the minimum state requirements, students also take Regents exams in chemistry, geometry, advanced math, etc. AP courses are offered in a variety of subjects and students who take those classes are expected to sit for the AP exams


In 9th and 10th grades, students travel together all day in one of four strands based solely on their language learning needs — a heterogeneous English-dominant strand that takes Italian, a second heterogeneous English-dominant strand that takes Japanese, a strand for beginning and early-intermediate ELLs, and a strand for more advanced ELLs. Many teachers teach both English-dominant and ELL students.

Beginning in the 11th grade, students are totally mixed in classes except that ELLs who have not yet passed the NYSESLAT or who are seen as needing extra support continue to receive a double period of ESL/ELA specifically designed for their needs.

Schedule Basics

Four days per week, Marble Hill uses a six-period schedule as a base with a shorter seventh period for lunch and an 8th-period PE period for half of the students each day.  On those days, teachers teach four 59-minute classes and have two 59-minute periods for preparation and collaborative planning. On Wednesdays, teachers have two or three morning classes and have the rest of the day for collaboration and PD while students work at their assigned community service site.

Professional Development

Teachers have 2 1/2 hours for collaboration and professional development every Wednesday while students are deployed to their weekly community service assignment in local schools and community-based organizations. Part of that time is used for grade-team meetings, which often involve teachers who serve the same students focusing closely on a few students across subjects — a process the teachers call “inquiry.”

A committee of teachers representing most academic departments works with the principal and APs to design another segment of the afternoon. Teachers choose one of six interest areas, most cutting across disciplines (e.g. promoting reading for pleasure, writing across the curriculum, expanding use of technology in class) and collaborate on setting goals, identifying resources, and following a timeline of benchmarks for their work together.

Teachers in the same discipline are scheduled for common professional periods daily and generally use at least one period per week for full department work, typically looking at each other’s assignments and studying the resulting student work.

Student Community

In both 9th and 10th grades, students take all their classes with the same group of about 30 students. Generally, their classes are next door to each other so they do very little traveling within the school. This creates a tight-knit community and “shelters” students from the other schools that share the huge building known as the JFK campus. A dress code for students — white tops, dark colored pants or skirts, dark shoes, no sneakers — is strictly enforced. As explained in the student handbook, this is designed to “promote a professional environment that is focused on learning.” The founding principal explains that the school opened with this dress code in place to level the playing field for students coming from all over the world and for a population that was 90% free-lunch eligible. Student athletes can participate in JFK campus-wide teams (comprised of students for all seven schools that share this huge building) for a highly competitive intermural experience. They can also join a range of clubs and activities, including peer mediation and an exchange program with China. The student handbook invites them to apply to charter new clubs.

Professional Community

Turnover is low and most teachers have been at the school five years or more. Teachers appreciate how they are trusted as professionals as demonstrated by their role in designing Wednesday PD and their ability to use daily “professional periods” as they see fit, frequently for department work. Collaboration is by no means limited to Wednesday afternoons. As one teacher noted, “I think our English department is pretty close. We all get along very well. We have time in the day that we are not teaching, and it's the same period every day. We are physically in the same room together, talking about issues, planning things, strategizing about what we need to do to help students improve. I think that's something that's not happening by chance; it's something that is part of the design to give teachers that time to do that.”

Teachers play an important role in teacher hiring, PD planning, and other areas. As the school’s UFT chapter chair reported, “I think it's very open to teacher involvement in areas that are pretty influential in how our school operates. I think really encouraging and asking teachers to be involved in these initiatives and in these operational areas of the school is something that has always been very fundamental to Marble Hill ... If there's a teacher-led initiative that a teacher wants to do, this is very much an environment where that is supported and can happen.”

Family Engagement

The school employs a full-time parent coordinator, a former paraprofessional whose children graduated from the school. She regularly publishes a parent newsletter, which is translated into French, Spanish, and Bangla, arranges tours and orientations for prospective families, and schedules speakers on topics of interest to parents. Special events such as International Night and Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) workshops are well attended. Earphone translation is available for all parent meetings and is most commonly used to translate for the 60% of the families who speak Spanish, although staff also are available to translate into French and Bangla. Staff members also are available who speak Chinese and several African languages. For less common languages, the school uses a translation service available through the DOE. The parent coordinator collaborates with an attendance teacher on parent outreach, calling home whenever a student is absent. Teachers collaborate 40 minutes per week on putting together a list of “shout outs” — calling parents to tell them good news about their children.