John Bowne High School
QUEENS NY 11367 Map
John Bowne High School
John Bowne is a large comprehensive high school best known for its agriculture program. Located on Main Street in Flushing, Bowne serves a diverse student body: nearly 1,000 students are English Language Learners, representing 80 different countries, and 325 receive special education services.
"We have some of the best and brightest and we have some of the most challenging students," Principal Howard Kwait said.
Bowne feels almost like a small city. There is a 3.8-acre working farm, a greenhouse, a barn, a henhouse and assorted animals. A championship baseball team plays on its own diamond and there are several gymnasiums for the 26 sports teams. The overcrowded school has classes in four overlapping sessions from 7:25 a.m. to 4:37 p.m. A dozen trailers in the school yard serve the overflow of students from the sprawling main building, which is clean but somewhat worn, with torn window shades and peeling paint. Hallways are crowded, but not packed. Instead of jarring bells when classes change, music plays – sometimes opera, sometimes pop, a custom Kwait brought to the school from nearby Townsend Harris, where he was assistant principal of organization before coming to Bowne in 2006.
Many staff members are Bowne graduates, including Steve Perry, longtime director of the agriculture program. Aggies (as the agricultural students are known), openly gay students and ROTC cadets seem to coexist peacefully and teens told us they support one another. AIDS ribbons and tee shirts were for sale on our visit, poinsettias were blooming in the greenhouse, and drama students were rehearsing a play in the auditorium. Spanish, Chinese, French, Italian, and Latin are offered. On the day of our visit, students in a portable classroom were acting out a story in Latin using singular and plural verbs.
The agricultural program, a four-year concentration of study in plant and animal sciences, is a marvel. Bowne must be one of the few city schools to have members of Future Farmers of America. Aggie's cultivate crops and sell their harvest in a school store and summer-road side stand. They care for an amazing array of animals: iguanas, snakes, fish, llamas, alpacas, miniature horses, goats and hens which lay dozens of eggs daily. An entire room is devoted to more than 70 birds. Visitors are likely to be greeted by a parrot calling out "Hello". A lab is lined with cages of small rodents, colorful snakes and fish, including tilapia which the students eat at a year-end party. Entrance to the agriculture program is not selective but students who apply should be sure they like animals and farm work. The summer before 9th grade, incoming students are assigned a "land lab" and are given a 15 x 15-foot plot to grow crops. Older students may live and work on farms upstate.
Students in the writing program get an extra English or writing class every term, produce sophisticated school plays and poetry slams. The cast of "Chinglish," a Broadway show came to see the school's 2011 production of "Dog Sees God."
In the selective science program, students may work on research projects and take advanced courses, including high-level calculus. The school's zoned students are in the Bowne House–and the principal is quick to note that some of them score higher on their SATs than the science whizzes. ROTC is a draw for a few hundred Bowne House students who learn discipline from their cadet mentors.
Native Spanish and Chinese speakers may choose to be in bilingual programs or in English as a Second Language. We saw a group of ESL students in a history class, looking at pictures of slaves and writing descriptions. Slavery was a concept new to some, and they had trouble picking out which were the slaves and which were the masters. Using a computer program, they looked up unfamiliar words like "merchant."
School safety has improved in recent years, and the number of suspensions has declined. We didn't see many hallway stragglers although five students were sitting in the "principal's learning center" for those who act out. Students and teachers say they feel safe. Still, 43 percent of teachers said there are problems with order and discipline, according to the Learning Environment Survey. The school has six safety agents, and administrators say that's not enough to cover the building's multiple exits.
There is some friction between the administration and staff: Teachers give Kwait low marks for communication and say he doesn't include them often enough in decision-making, according to the Learning Environment Survey. Kwait says he has "swapped out" about 100 teachers and a few assistant principals since he became principal and not everyone likes change.
Special education: Nearly one-quarter of the students are categorized as special needs. There are 58 self-contained classes.
College admissions: There is only one college counselor in the busy college office. Between 60 and 70 percent of the graduates go to two or four year colleges, mostly CUNYs and SUNYs. A few students have received Posse scholarships for the University of Wisconsin. Aggies seek out top agricultural programs such as those at Cornell or Rutgers.
Admissions: Zoned students are eligible for Bowne House; the agricultural and writing programs accept a range of high and low-achieving students. The honors science program accepts kids with an average of 85 or higher and 3s or 4s on standardized tests. (Pamela Wheaton, December 2011)