Townsend Harris High School
QUEENS NY 11367 Map
Townsend Harris High School
One of the most demanding schools in the city, Townsend Harris High School combines high academic expectations with a well-rounded high school experience. All students take two years of Greek or Latin and at least one of a modern language: Spanish, French, Hebrew or Japanese. Latin students place in national competitions and 95 percent score above 80 percent on the Regents exam.
With just over 1,000 students, the school combines some of the benefits of very small and very large schools. “We are big enough to have diversity but small enough that everyone knows each other,” says Principal Kenneth Bonamo. Students are encouraged to think creatively, not merely to repeat what they have learned in textbooks. “By the time they’re in 11th grade they could walk into any business and say ‘what’s your problem?’ and solve it,” the principal said.
[In August 2012 Anthony Barbetta became principal. He came from Thomas Edison Career and Technical Education High School in Queens where he was principal.]
Classes are a blend of traditional and progressive with students modeling math problems on the board and teachers asking high-level “why” questions to deepen critical thinking. The school’s rich science classes allow students to take a technology research project lab starting in 10th grade. They conduct research projects of their choice with organizations like Queens College, NYU and Rockefeller. One student created a computer modeling of high-density polyethylene for use in hip replacements. Students may also take classes at nearby Queens College.
The school prides itself on its Ephebic Oath, “I shall not leave my city any less but rather greater than I found it.” Students are encouraged to take part in internships and community service. Rather than a traditional bell system, a warning bell sounds five minutes before the end of each class and classical music plays over the loudspeaker in between classes, though it is often drowned out by passing students. While the building is cheery and well-kept, the location, far from the nearest subway line, is a drawback.
All classes are honors level. Students take two English classes in 9th grade. All students take Advanced Placement (AP) World History and AP US History. Every term, students work on projects called “collaterals” for each subject. These range from PowerPoint presentations and papers to experiential learning like putting together a culinary tour of Queens while studying local communities.
The school has long had a reputation as pressure cooker, with mountains of homework. But the students we spoke to on our visit said the homework load is demanding but manageable, at around two to three hours a night, and teachers now coordinate to limit the number of tests and collaterals due on the same day. “It’s been hard but once you experience it it’s not that bad,” one 9th grade girl told us. “It’s all about time management.” Parents also say that communication with the school has improved and that Bonamo is accessible.
There is no dress code but students wear their ID cards around their necks and are only allowed to visit their lockers at lunch. About 70 percent of the student body is female.
Each of the 40+ clubs and organizations has a community service requirement and participates in fundraising activities. The organization SING puts on 100 percent student-produced performances each year in addition to the school's spring play.
Students have daily physical education classes, and freshmen must run up to three miles a week. Upperclassmen may choose from a variety of electives like volleyball and weightlifting. One-third of students participate on the school’s 25 sports teams and all students take part in at least one activity per year.
About 40 percent of graduates attend top-ranked colleges and notable colleges and universities such as SUNY Binghamton, Macaulay Honors College at CUNY and SUNY Stony Brook University. In 2011, Newsweek ranked the school 78th in its top 500 schools in the nation.
Special education: Very few students have IEPs, though the school does accept students with special needs if they meet admissions criteria.
Admissions: Students must score above the 90th percentile on standardized tests. They are then ranked by neighborhood and selected by taking the top applicant in each group. Although admission is citywide, some 95 percent of students come from Queens. (Aryn Bloodworth, May 2011)