Community Health Academy of the Heights
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Community Health Academy of the Heights
APRIL 2013 UPDATE: Formerly hosted in two separate buildings, Community Health Academy of the Heights moved to a new building at 504 W. 158th Street in September 2012. The new six-story building is fully air conditioned and wheelchair accessible and includes an administrative wing for two of its community partners, the Community League of the Heights (CLOTH) and the Community Healthcare Network. The new building also includes an art room, a music room, a computer lab, a gymnasium, special education classrooms, and a science class room with two demonstration rooms and a prep room. In September 2013, CLOTH and the Community Healthcare Network, plan to open a health center at the school.
NOVEMBER 2009 REVIEW: Community Health Academy of the Heights (CHAH), a still-expanding 6-12 school which opened in 2006 with 6th and 7th graders and is growing to become a 6-12 school, is developing an intimate, college-prep curriculum with an emphasis on health and community. After-school programs and internship opportunities offer students real-world experience in the health field.
Building and location: CHAH is located in a quiet area of Washington Heights, surrounded by local shops and close to public transportation. CHAH’s middle school and high school grades are in two different locations a block apart, although they plan to move together into a new building by January 2012.
Grades 6-8 are housed on 183rd street along with offices for the parent coordinator and Principal Sandra Maldonado. The five-story building is small, with a tiny cafeteria that doubles as a gym.
The high school, located on 182nd street, is in a one-floor community center that resembles a rusty, brown bomb shelter. Inside, the school occupies one long hallway. with nine classrooms, a science lab, and administrative offices.There is no auditorium, cafeteria, or gym, but students use facilities at neighboring IS 143.
On our visit we saw only the high school site.
School environment and culture: The principal said she is dedicated to creating a welcoming environment for students who get attention and support with an advisory system in which one teacher is assigned to meet regularly with ten students.During advisories, which meet twice a week, students discuss personal and academic issues, and work on community-based projects. For example, administrators told us high schools students are conducting research into the effects of obesity, administering surveys to middle school students and generating list of neighborhood resources.
We visited a few weeks before Thanksgiving as the school was planning a "Thanksgiving Feast" for families who otherwise would not celebrate the holiday. Some students said they would not celebrate at home because it was too expensive. Maldonado, a member of the community for 30 years, sees the Thanksgiving dinner, and similar celebrations, as important yearly traditions for students. It is done in conjunction with the school's lead partners: Community League of the Heights (CLOTH) and New York-PresbyterianHospital.
Teaching and curriculum: CHAH is developing a college-preparatory curriculum, Maldonado said. Middle school students may take honors math and science programs. The high school offers a standard array of typical academic subjects, including several science courses and an AP Spanish class.
At the time of our visit the high school was still growing and housed only 9th and 10th graders. Classroom management was a problem in several classes we visited. We observed students acting out, talking loudly, interrupting lessons, and ignoring requests from teachers to pay attention.
The school’s health theme was most apparent in a 10th-grade science class where students competed to guess the right structure for a sugar molecule. The teacher asked students, “what kinds of fats are bad for you,” and “how much sugar is too much sugar?”
We did not see the health curriculum incorporated in subjects other than science. In a subsequent email from the school's assistant principal, Adam Stevens, he wrote that the "school's community health curriculum is built into every content area." For example, he said, 6th grade students researched ALS and participated in an annual ALS Walk, as well as interviewing people living with ALS. High school students produced a pamphlet regarding healthy things to do and places to eat in the community which was published by the Manhattan Times. Once a month there are health assemblies featuring speakers from different organizations, he said.
Partnerships and programs: With the assistance of New Visions for Public Schools and the New York City Department of Education, Community League of the Heights (CLOTH) was the lead partner in the school’s founding and maintains a close connection. CLOTH’s long history in the Washington Heights community garnered two strong partnerships with Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and New York Presbyterian Hospital.
The CUMC partnership affords students the opportunity to meet medical students and employees to discuss internship prospects. In addition, CUMC students act as mentors, introducing CHAH students to the medical profession. New York Presbyterian Hospital employees, specifically hospital managers, teach CHAH students about the health field and workplace in general. The CUMC and New York Presbyterian Hospital partnership bring the “health and community” theme to life. CLOTH also gives CHAH students access to their Heiskell Community Technology Center, where students are trained in computer software.
Special education: CHAH features Collaborative Team Teaching (CTT) classes for special education students. Maldonado – whose expertise is in special education – purports that she does not want to distinguish special education students from the general education population. "We should value what they are doing and thinking," she said, and they should be treated with "dignity and respect."
Before becoming principal, Maldonado was the special education coordinator for District 10 and worked in the special education field for over 15 years.
English language learners: Students learning to speak English are placed within general education classes, but have one-on–one time with a bilingual teacher. Most of the teachers and administrators are proficient in both Spanish and English.
After school: The school hosts a number of after-school programs, clubs, and sports teams. Students attend movie nights and participate in social clubs such as Brother Sister Sol and Guy Talk/Girl Talk. There is an active student government, according to the assistant princial, which plans schoolwide activities including fund-raising, school beautification projects, spirit days, and school dances.
Family involvement: According to parent coordinator Laura Taveras, parental involvement could be stronger, but it is improving. The PTA does not have strong participation so CHAH decided to create a Parent Teacher Committee (PTC). Since the school prides itself on its community theme, the PTC works to engage the entire community, including parents and extended family members.
Admissions: Priority in admission goes to students in Washington Heights, Harlem, and Inwood. CHAH administers a written exam and interview to applicants. About 80 percent of the graduating 8th-graders return to CHAH for high school, according to the assistant principal. (Kalasia Daniels, November 2009; updated July 2010 and April 2013) [Featured picture of the new school building's ribbon cutting ceremony from a DNAinfo.com slideshow]