Harlem Renaissance High School
MANHATTAN NY 10035 Map
Harlem Renaissance High School
Nadav Zeimer, a former computer engineer and robotics coach became principal in 2010. Harlem Renaissance shares a building with a new District 79 GED Plus Program.
2007 REVIEW: Harlem Renaissance High School is part of a network of schools designed for teenagers who have been unsuccessful in other settings. These "transfer alternative" programs strive to get students interested enough in education to do what it takes to earn a high school diploma. Harlem Renaissance works to accomplish this by offering students personal attention, a small teacher-student ratio, and plenty of support. It graduated its first few students in January 2007.
Located on a pleasant street in a steadily improving Harlem neighborhood, Harlem Renaissance is warm and welcoming, and for those students who are determined to finish high school, the school works. Daily "advisories," small groups of students who meet with an adult to discuss a variety of issues, are one way students get personal attention. Students also seek out individual teachers and administrators to connect withincluding the new principal, Mary Rice Boothe, who began in fall 2006. "I've got an issue I want to discuss with you," we heard one girl tell the principal in the hallway between classes. "Okay, come into my office," Boothe responded.
A graduate of the Leadership Academy, the city Department of Education's training ground for new principals, Boothe has the background to work with students in a transfer school. She lives in the neighborhood and was previously an English teacher at another alternative high school, Central Park East Secondary High School. A year at the Young Women's Leadership Academy, a well regarded all-girls' public school, gave her experience in a selective, highly organized school.
At Harlem Renaissance she faces the challenge of getting more kids to attend school regularly. Attendance, fluctuating between 60 to 80 percent, is woefully low, even by alternative school standards. There are a number of reasons kids fail to show up. Many students have multiple problems at home as well as major outside-of-school responsibilities, including parenthood. On the day of our visit, many classes were half empty. Boothe attributed this to the time of year. It was just before the end of the semester, and many students already considered the semester a wash; convinced that they were going to fail the class, they hadn't shown up, she said. Of those who were present, some were working hard to finish projects, taking final exams, or prepping for the Regents; others simply sat, not doing work, and were likely to fail the class, teachers told us.
The administration and faculty are attacking the problem a number of ways. For one thing, they are offering incentives to bring students to school. Kids with perfect attendance are rewarded trips to Broadway shows, professional basketball games, or the movies. Twelve out of 229 students qualified for the rewards in one marking period. The school has also established a student council to give students a greater voice, and the hope was that council members could help devise ways to encourage more of their peers kids to come to school. In addition Boothe holds regular meetingsincluding several the day of our visitwith parents of absentee students.
Harlem Renaissance is a "diploma plus" program, which means that in addition to regular class work students are offered credit-carrying work and internship opportunities that can help them meet graduation requirements. In addition, students are expected to develop a portfolio of their work for every class, and they confer individually with advisors to put together a set of goals toward graduation. Students may take after-school classes to catch up on their credits.
The school offers some compelling courses. Students in a double-period digital media/English class took digital cameras out into Harlem streets and produced postcards of neighborhood scenes, then wrote stories about the photos. In a global history class, we saw students making models of 19th century homes. A music class is equipped with new digital pianos and, as a final project, students were writing their own melodies, based on the letters in their name, corresponding to letters on the piano scale. However, there are few advanced courses.
Teachers are mostly young and enthusiastic, and they seem happy. There are few discipline problems, according to Boothe. Indeed, she could recall only two fights having occurred since her arrival. Relations between students and teachers appear strong. Two student council guides who showed us around the building said they appreciated the personal attention they received at the school and much preferred its small size and supportive atmosphere to what they had found at the larger schools they had previously attended.
The building, which is more than 100 years old and used to be an elementary school, houses a childcare center and a GED program. It is old-fashioned but clean, well-painted, and spacious. There is no auditorium or gym, only a weight and exercise room, and a small outdoor yard for use in warm weather.
Admissions: Harlem Renaissance students arrive with 10 high school credits or fewer. All have repeated 9th grade and typically are between 15 and a half and 16 and a half years old. Originally designed to take the overflow of students from large Bronx high schools that had closed down, the school now targets kids who won't have to travel so far- residents of upper Manhattan, and the south Bronx. (Pamela Wheaton, January 2007; updated 2011)