Academy of American Studies

28-04 41 AVENUE
QUEENS NY 11101 Map
Phone: (718) 361-8786
Website: Click here
Admissions: educational option/screened
unzoned
Noteworthy
Principal: William Bassell
Neighborhood: Astoria/ LI City
District: 30
Grade range: 09 thru 12

What's special:

Lots of history-oriented field trips and engaging lessons.

The downside:

Few sports and cramped quarters.

The InsideStats

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Our review

On a rainy day in May, students file into the former sewing machine factory that houses half of the Academy of American Studies. The teens are noticeably polite as they greet their principal, remove hats and earplugs, fold down umbrellas and funnel calmly into a hallway as narrow as two single file lines.

For the most part, students don't seem to mind the cramped quarters. "It's small," said a junior, "but we get more attention." They also get to take history-oriented trips: to Plymouth, Massachusetts when they study the colonial period, to Boston to walk the freedom trail, to Washington D.C. to see the Constitution, and to Gettysburg, for a unit on the Civil War. Even during school, movement is a feature of many lessons. "Do I look like a pilgrim?" asked a girl, in a long black skirt and a white scarf, ready to act out a scene from the Crucible. "We bring history to life," said assistant principal Mark Solkoff.

The school was founded in 1996 with support from The Gilder Lehrman Institute, a foundation that seeks to bolster the study of American history in public schools.

In addition to trips and skits, history is explored through student-made posters, timelines and charts. Much more than textbooks, students use original source documents, art, letters and political cartoons from the period. They read memoirs, graphic novels and watch films. Trips are not always directly related to history. In the journalism class, students had a chance to visit the New York Times printing plant and to sit in on an editorial meeting at People Magazine.

Students come from all over the world, and they are motivated and articulate about their goals. "I'm going to the University of Buffalo to study Biomedical Science," said a senior. Although science and math are not a major focus at the school, there are limited Advanced Placement offerings in both. The school has a range of clubs that foster leadership and self-expression – Student Government, Debate, Eagles in the Morning (a radio team), College Discovery, and Improvisational Theater.

Those with special needs are integrated and also have a voice. Skits are a good way for everyone to feel like a part of things, said a co-teacher in one of the Integrated Co-Teaching classes, which have a mix of general and special needs students. In geometry, a blind child calculated the mid-point of a triangle, like her sighted peers, but she used Braille shapes created by her unobtrusive adult assistant. Students can get extra tutoring help during and after school.

William Bassel became principal in 2011 after many years as principal of Long Island City High School. He plans to expand the number of Advanced Placement courses and is an advocate of infusing art into academics. Teachers said there is more structure under his leadership – no visible hats, cell phones, or iPods, and more formalized teacher meetings.

The school has two campuses separated by a quiet residential street. Rooms in the south campus feel packed and can get warm – although noisy air conditioners help – and hallways, offices and classrooms have pockets of clutter. In fall 2012, Academy students will have access to science labs and more space in the north campus, a building they share with Newcomer's High School. Only seniors are allowed to go out for lunch but on nice weather days everyone has access to a large asphalt yard with handball and basketball courts. There are seven sports teams. The Newcomers band is campus-wide.

College admissions: College representatives visit the school. SAT test prep is offered in the spring. Many graduates attend CUNY and SUNY schools, Syracuse, Boston, NYU, and Penn State, among others.

Admissions: The school admits three-quarters of students via the educational option method, a formula designed to attract a mix of high and low achieving students in which half of the students are selected by computer, the other half by the school. The remaining one-quarter of the students is chosen based on their grades and test scores. Tours are offered in the fall. (Lydie Raschka, May 2012)

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