Benjamin N. Cardozo High School
QUEENS NY 11364 Map
Benjamin N. Cardozo High School
Benjamin Cardozo is a large, well-functioning high school with a committed staff and a solid graduation rate. Students find their niche by getting involved in one of the school's 70 clubs or its 33 athletic teams. There are 19 Advanced Placement classes plus honors classes for strong students and remedial programs to help low-performing students.
The school's size is its strength, but it also presents significant challenges. The building is at more than 140 percent capacity and runs a staggered 10-period schedule. With two guidance counselors and 1,000 students per grade, some students fall through the cracks.
The massive building is located in a residential neighborhood and is welcoming, clean and well lit. It is surrounded by sports fields, hand-ball courts and a full-size track. Fliers for every conceivable club and activity are plastered on hallway walls alongside the names of students who make the honor roll.
The school boasts four competitive programs of about 100 students each– the highly rated Da Vinci science and math program, law, dance and the newly instituted media and journalism program. Students in the competitive programs and zoned students all take 9th-grade English together, which allows students to mix. The school has a more rigorous curriculum than the state requires: all students must take four years of math, science, and a foreign language.
Even with 19 Advanced Placement classes and additional honors courses, some parents and students complain that there are too few spots. In one AP English class we observed, about 30 seniors were holding a sophisticated discussion about symbolic power struggles in James Joyce's The Dubliners. "It's pretty rigorous and very challenging. They really encourage discussion," said one student. "A lot of times there are wait lists, though, and it's hard to get in," she added.
Nearly all graduates are admitted to college, according to Principal Gerald Martori. The college office was buzzing on the October morning that we visited, in anticipation of 150 colleges that were planning to come to a fair that night. The college advisors are swamped but get help from parent volunteers and say they do not limit the number of schools to which a student can apply. About 80 percent of college-bound students attend a four-year college, says Martori.
In response to some parents' complaints that the school does not communicate with them enough, Martori set up a website where parents can get more information and teachers can post daily homework assignments. With all classes at capacity and some teachers managing seven-course loads, he admits that it doesn't always happen. Because of budget cuts, most teachers see 170 students a day (five classes of 34 students). One teacher acknowledged that parent-teacher conference nights were "a zoo."
The overcrowding can also lead to safety incidents in the hallways during class changes. Martori closed down a corridor affectionately known as 42nd Street for part of the 2010-11 school year, suspended a greater number of students and is re-instituting a peer mediation program. Class changes packed the hallways during our visit and during one lunch period there weren't enough seats for all the kids, but students seemed comfortable and conversations were lively and friendly. "Students are happy here," said Martori. "Staff mostly only leave to retire."
The guidance office is a warren of counselors' offices with each one carrying a caseload of 500 students. Staff members were intense and focused the day we visited and are led by the energetic Assistant Principal of Guidance Sheila Clark. "I take care of the kids," she said breathlessly as she flipped through a CD of photos she makes every year that miraculously includes every student who graduates.
The classes we visited were calm and orderly. In a physics class, most of the students were taking notes as the teacher taught a traditional lesson using a Smart Board. She had to work to get student participation and called students by name to keep them engaged.
A U.S. Government teacher used provocative current news websites and interesting audio clips to illustrate liberal and conservative thought, although when students asked questions about tangential issues like why the national debt continued to climb, answers were partial and rushed.
A teacher in a bustling sculpture class dealt with multiple budget cuts by having students use cans from a school food drive to build creative structures.
For students coming in below grade level, there is a program for about 25 students that offers extra support and smaller classes. A reading teacher gives extra help to students scoring at Level 1 on their state reading exam. A Gateway program targets mostly black and Latino students who show ability but whose grades are floundering. Honors society students also provide tutoring during school hours to other students.
Martori estimates that about half of the students are involved in after-school clubs. "I spend the first month of each year going into 9th-grade English classes with some of the leadership kids to talk about how to get involved in Cardozo," he said. "Colleges want well-rounded students, and being involved creates friendships." There 17 male and 16 female sports teams, including golf, tennis, bowling and handball, as well as track, football, soccer and baseball. Extracurriculars include chess, fashion, cheerleading, Feed the World, Model U.N., knitting, jazz and an award-winning student newspaper.
Special education: Most of the school's roughly 500 special education students get extra help while in mainstream classes. A little over one-third learn in self-contained classrooms.
Admissions: zoned school. Students outside the zone may apply to the special programs in law, communications, science and dance. (Meredith Kolodner, October, 2011)