Ella Baker School
MANHATTAN NY 10065 Map
Ella Baker School
A small, progressive school founded on the model of Central Park East in East Harlem, Ella Baker is a happy, informal place where children call grown ups by their first names and there's plenty of time to build with blocks, to dance, or to explore the neighborhood on class trips. Two grades of kids are taught together (K-1), (2-3), so students have the same teacher for two years. Children are encouraged to explore their own interests and work at their own pace.
As other public schools have increasingly focused on preparing children for standardized tests, Ella Baker has maintained its commitment to learning through play and discovery. The school has no textbooks, only fun-to-read picture books and novels, science discovery books and historical fiction. There are weekly trips to museums, parks, and ice-skating.
Both the student body and the faculty are racially diverse, and there are an unusual number of men. The staff, let by Principal Laura Garcia, is stable and experienced. We heard no raised voices on our tour, and kids seemed reassured by clear classroom routines.
The school is part of the Julia Richman Educational Complex, a large building that houses several alternative high schools. Ella Baker shares the complex's two gyms, pool, auditoriums, ballet studio, library, computer room and Mount Sinai health facility.
The homework load is light and the tiny middle school does not offer Regents-level math or science—a plus or minus depending on your point of view. Some teachers say the academic expectations are not as high are they should be, according to the Learning Environment Survey. Garcia acknowledges that the school's test scores, while above the citywide average, have room to grow and she's committed to finding ways to improve them without sacrificing the joyful atmosphere that is Ella Baker's hallmark.
Special education: About 40 children receive special education services. A speech therapist comes twice a week. Students with special needs are fully integrated into all classes.
Admissions: There are regular tours beginning in October. Families must tour the school and visit classrooms before applying to see if it is a good fit. Applications are due in March. Children from all five boroughs may attend. Priority is given to children of parents who travel to the East Side area for school or work and to those who have siblings in the LYFE program in the Julia Richmond building. (Clara Hemphill, January 2012)