The Brooklyn Latin School
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The Brooklyn Latin School
Brooklyn Latin is an unapologetically work-hard kind of place where assignments are seriously critiqued and public speaking is fostered. Every child takes four years of Latin, completes 150 hours of community service and writes an extended research essay. The academic intensity is lightened through close advisory bonds, playful traditions and community-building trips. Top universities, including the Ivy League, eagerly recruit Brooklyn Latin students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college.
One of nine of specialized schools in the city, Brooklyn Latin, founded in 2006, is modeled after Boston Latin, the oldest public high school in the country. Brooklyn Latin is the only specialized school (and one of the few in the city) to offer an International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma, a degree widely accepted at universities in more than 100 countries.
Brooklyn Latin is housed on the top floors of an elementary school building PS 147, but the aesthetic is that of an English boarding school. Students wear white shirts and khaki trousers or skirts. Boys wear neckties. Framed photos and banners hang against unadorned white walls offset by glossy purple trim. Little student work is displayed, as though everything of importance occurs in the exchange of ideas between magistri (Latin for teachers) and discipuli (students).
Students participate in Socratic seminars, in which they learn by communicating according to formal rules of discussion. “Talking is a big piece of our culture,” said founding Principal Jason Griffiths. In declamations, students must memorize a poem or speech and present it to the class. “I’ve seen kids who want to be flies on the wall really develop their voices,” said art teacher Kathleen Busoni. The emphasis in all subjects is on process: “You don’t necessarily have to be right, but you have to know the steps,” said a junior.
All students take four years of laboratory science: physics, chemistry and two years of IB biology. Juniors and seniors take English, history, math, Latin, biology and theory of knowledge (a philosophy class unique to IB). They choose electives in Spanish, visual arts, physics or world religions. Some subjects, like math, biology and Latin, are split into higher and lower levels of difficulty. [Note: the school does not offer Advanced Placement classes or college classes, but the IB classes are considered even more demanding.]
Freshmen year is a steep learning curve, said several students. On our visit a 9th grade English teacher handed back interim assessments, which take place four times a year. One boy tucked the exam in his binder and put his head down on his arms. Marie, a sophomore, who considered herself a strong student in middle school, said she failed her first geometry test at Brooklyn Latin: “I was a little bit of a goofball but I really had to buckle down.” Griffiths said things begin to click for them around February. The mood in a senior Latin class was lighter as the teacher asked students to translate phrases on the board amid jokes and laughter. The week after interims is “re-teach week,” when goals are set and mistakes are closely analyzed.
Visual arts students are encouraged to explore the contemporary art scene. A Williamsburg gallery donated books and provided space for the senior art show. Juniors and seniors build portfolios and keep “Investigation Notebooks” in which they develop their ideas. Freshmen and sophomores are welcome to join open studios held twice a week after school to augment their art history classes.
Freshmen are mixed with juniors and sophomores with seniors in weekly advisory groups. “It’s like a big brother or sister watching out for you,” said a 10th grade boy. During “March Madness,” groups compete in lighthearted events called College Day or Purple Day to raise school spirit. Advisory is the place to share concerns in a confidential setting: “It’s kind of like a sacred bond,” said a senior girl.
Griffiths, a Princeton graduate, sends his freshmen to the Princeton-Blairstown Center for an outdoor bonding adventure in the fall. In the spring they visit Boston Latin and area colleges. The Spanish department organizes home stays in South America and roughly half the senior class takes a trip to Italy.
Class size ranges from 20 in a senior Latin class to 33 in a sophomore trigonometry class. Seniors may step out into a courtyard during the 30-minute lunch but otherwise all stay in. Kids have some input into the formation of clubs but it depends on teacher availability and talent. “Everything’s not a constant,” said a senior. “We had drama last year but not this year.” There is no gym, and sports are limited.
One third of graduates typically receive the IB diploma.
College admissions: Students are encouraged to apply to colleges out of state, though most stay closer to home to save money. Eight received scholarships for the Macaulay Honors Program at CUNY in 2011. Recent acceptances include Smith, Vassar, Amherst, Brown, Cornell and Emory.
Special education: Only a few children have special needs. They meet with teachers during office hours to get help with organization and content.
Admissions: Specialized high school exam. “It’s a traditional academic environment,” said Griffiths. “Kids who want to be here do well. If you’re looking for loose creative writing, it’s not the right place.” (Lydie Raschka, November 2011)