Urban Academy Laboratory High School
MANHATTAN NY 10065 Map
Urban Academy Laboratory High School
Urban Academy is a school that invites interaction, in the comfy open lounge where kids hang out on worn couches playing guitar or ping pong, and in the office, a central hub, where students greet teachers by first name as they make their way to their lockers.
The school has a refreshingly rebellious streak with a word-of-mouth reputation. Urban shuns tests and labels and puts a premium on individuality and respect. Students work at their own pace, often choosing to forgo breaks to work in the darkroom, the art room or the lab. They stay in or go out for lunch and return through front doors with no metal detectors. Violence and theft are rare and attendance is high – as is satisfaction according to the Learning Environment Survey.
Located on the second floor of the Julia Richman Educational Complex, Urban is designed to help students who have floundered in other settings and often are over-age for their grade and behind in credits. The school prepares them for graduation and subsequent achievement, in some cases at elite colleges, such as Brown and Skidmore.
Herb Mack and Ann Cook, who founded the school in 1986 and have run it together ever since, take on teens who are schoo- phobic, living in foster care or couch surfing with friends. We have "a huge number of kids with emotional issues," according to Cook. "We're trying to find a way to reconnect them with school."
As a member of the progressive Coalition of Essential Schools, Urban does not ask its students to take Regents exams. Instead students select courses from a catalog with titles like: "Beyond Harry Potter" (reading novels about the future, magic, survival and death), "Audio Portraits," and "NY History Through Film." To graduate, students must complete in-depth projects in six areas: creative arts, criticism, literature, math, social studies, and science. All are also required to perform community service. For consortium schools, according to Cook, "the data is far and away better for college retention, non-remediation, teacher retention and drop outs."
The atmosphere is laid-back, but the work is not easy. A couple of kids in the advanced algebra class were taking it for a second time. In the art room, teens painted a scene multiple ways to learn the importance of revision and critique. Ninety-seven percent go to 4-year colleges but not necessarily after four years of high school: "We hold on to them until we think they're ready to leave," said Cook.
Urban's relationship with the five other schools in the building is friendly and constructive. Some Urban students work in the building's on-site day care center or help with the elementary school science fair. All students participate in off-site internships and those who wish may take classes at New York University, Hunter and other area colleges.
Urban has a few students with special needs but teaches them their way: "We do a lot of independent work with the kids," explained Mack. "I would argue we have a lot of special ed kids but we don't do special ed in the formal way." Urban also accommodates about nine students who come from P226M Junior High Annex for children who are emotionally and developmentally challenged and language impaired.
After school: Tutoring, musical theater, various clubs and activities.
Admissions: Students should call the school to schedule a tour. Students interested in admission after the tour may apply. Applications are reviewed twice yearly and students are admitted only for the start of the fall and spring semesters. The school does not accept students who intend to graduate in one year. (Lydie Raschka, January 2012)