Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Secondary School for Arts and Technology

47-07 30 PLACE
QUEENS NY 11101 Map
Phone: (718) 472-5671
Website: Click here
Admissions: District 24 & 30 preference, Ed Opt
Wheelchair accessible
unzoned
Noteworthy
Principal: Ann Seifullah
Neighborhood: Astoria/ LI City
District: 24
Grade range: 07 thru 12
Parent coordinator: Linda Langford

What's special:

Friendly place with lots of spirit and a sought-after middle school.

The downside:

Many windowless classrooms;technology needs to be upgraded.

The InsideStats

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Our review

Housed in a former Macy’s warehouse in the heart of Long Island City’s industrial and commercial center, Wagner Secondary School for Arts & Technology attracts students looking for a small, welcoming alternative to large, traditional schools. Students generally work together in groups or in pairs at small tables, generating lots of class discussions and collaborations. Classes last 51 minutes and meet four times a week. Every Friday there is an all-school Town Hall meeting.

Principal Annie Seifullah arrived in May 2011 and staff says she has energized the school, making it a place where both students and staff want to be. She tightened up the discipline and academic standards and brought in a college counselor two days a week – something the school never had before. The teaching staff is stable, a few have been there since the school’s founding in 1973. Teachers plan together on Wednesday afternoons when students are dismissed early.

Some interior classrooms lack windows and the low-ceilinged gymnasium is inadequate but there is a friendly feel to the brightly painted building, from the round tables in the cafeteria to the “Chill-out Area” where kids relax after school. Students are on a first-name basis with most teachers and administrators, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t rules and consequences for breaking them. Students who are late three times or more a month get a week’s lunch detention–not a happy prospect for high school students who prize being able to go out for lunch. Students may grumble, especially since some travel up to two hours to get to school, but they admit the rule helps get them to school on time.

The middle school attracts stronger students than the high school, and boasts a higher attendance rate. Students representing 20 countries collaborate on projects and edit one another’s work. There is less emphasis on test prep and worksheets than many students were used to at their more traditional elementary schools. Some children even ask for more test prep, although they end up enjoying the many projects that they have a hand in creating, teachers say.

“They determine a lot of how class is run,” said 7th-grade English teacher Steve Lynch. “They grade themselves. I expect them to have opinions and they are not used to that.”

In a writing lesson, students came up with a list of eight traits that all fables should include and read one another’s rough draft to ensure that they were included. One fable’s message: “Having your work done by yourself is better than copying others.” Seventh-graders will read their fables to the elementary students at nearby PS 150.

High school students take frequent trips, to the Laugh Factory in Times Square and to Ellis Island, for example, and a day-long trip to Philadelphia. Classes frequently involve group projects but we saw plenty of textbook prep for science exams too. In a study of global revolutions, 10th-graders create displays and handouts about revolutions in Cuba, Mexico and Russia. Students take four years of science, including chemistry and physics. The biology lab is covered with plants and are part of the classroom’s community and population, the teacher explained. Some teachers require students to re-do sub-par work until their grade comes up to an 85 or 90.

There are several advanced visual arts classes in addition to intro to art and intro theater classes in 9th grade. Tenth-graders all take a theatre class and some continue in 11th grade, performing updated version of Shakespearean plays, such as “Twelfth Night” done to disco music. Middle-schoolers get piano lessons four days a week and art every semester. But, for a school with technology in its name, there is a lack of up-to-date equipment. Students use laptop computers to research and write assignments but most classrooms are not equipped with SMART boards. Some teachers prefer old-fashioned chalkboards. The principal plans to incorporate more technology and the library will be made over into a media center.

Despite the lack of a proper gym, Wagner has an active and successful sports program, sharing 16 teams shared with two other local schools: International High School at LaGuardia and Middle College High School.

There are two fulltime guidance counselors, one of whom can offer one on one therapy to students who need it. Many teenagers have responsibilities at home and must care for younger siblings.

Special education: The school offers Integrated Co-Teaching classes in high school; there are no special education students in the middle school.

College admissions: Only about half the students go to college; about 50 percent of them to CUNYs, including LaGuardia College which is just two blocks away. “College readiness was not a focus here at all,” said the principal adding that will change now that there is a college counselor.

Admissions: There are 60 seats and 200 applicants for the selective middle school program. Applicants must produce a writing sample on the spot, and sit for a group interview and activity. There is a big emphasis on group work and students must be able to function in a high school setting, said longtime guidance counselor Luis Fayed. About half the 8th-graders stay for high school; a dozen of the top performers go to specialized exam schools such as Brooklyn Tech, Stuyvesant and Bronx Science or to Townsend Harris. Talented kids frequently go to LaGuardia or Frank Sinatra. Others leave for bigger high schools such as Forest Hills, but some return to Wagner, preferring the cozier atmosphere. Priority is given to continuing 8th graders for the high school; the rest are selected via the Ed Opt method, allowing a range of students of all levels. (Pamela Wheaton, December 2011)

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