MANHATTAN NY 10013 Map
UPDATE DECEMBER 2012: Founding principal Alisa Berger left the school at the end of the 2011-2012 school year. Replacing her as principal is Isora Bailey. She was formerly a principal at the Greenwich Village Middle School (now the Lower Manhattan Community Middle School) and the director of school improvement for one of the Education Department's Children First Networks that supports the city schools. She has a masters in education from Harvard and attended the NYC Leadership Academy, a training program for new principals.
2011 REVIEW: The NYCiSchool was founded as a way to offer both the creative projects that kids find engaging and the test prep they need to pass Regents exams. Too often, schools offer only one or the other, says Principal Alisa Berger.
"There are test prep factories where kids get diplomas but don't actually learn anything, and there are places where they do creative work and ignore the tests, but then they struggle to graduate," she says. “We decided it was an irresolvable dilemma to do both in one class, so we separate them."
In the project-based courses, called modules, students learn both academic and real-world skills. In the one module, students performed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” In another, they made a documentary about being 16. Students also learn to compose music, edit videos, and work with architects to design and seek funding for a green roof.
The Regents prep courses, separate from the modules, may be organized as a traditional class or a self-paced computer program.
The computer programs, which offer video clips of teachers lecturing as well as multiple choice questions, focus on "facts you need to know to memorize to pass the Regents," Berger said. Each student may work through the program at his or her own speed; a student may stop the lecture to take notes or repeat an unclear passage. Some students are prepared to take a Regents exam after just six months of study, while others may take as long as 18 months. NYCi school also offers five Advanced Placement courses: Biology, US History, Government, Calculus and English Language and Composition.
Berger, formerly principal of Mott Hall II, a middle school on the Upper West Side, believes the transition to high school should be gentle, and offers as much support to ninth graders as possible. Ninth graders, she says, have more in common developmentally with middle school children than with older high school children.
The organization of the school and the use of computer-based instruction makes it possible to accommodate English Language Learners and children with special education needs because each child's program is geared to what he or she needs. Berger said a child who is too shy to speak in class, or a child with autism, might respond to a teacher's query by posting a comment on an online "discussion board" in the evening. The next day, the teacher may read that comment out loud to the class - allowing a child who might otherwise be excluded to take part in a discussion. A child who had "language processing issues" dictated an essay into a computer, which automatically-typed a first draft which the child then edited.
We also observed one classroom where the students interacted with their teacher by video conference. Students sat around a table reading aloud from a Shakespeare play, while the teacher’s face was projected onto a smart board in the classroom. Their interaction was just like any other classroom, with the principal sitting in on the lesson to make sure the students were well behaved.
Regular classroom teachers offer French, Spanish and Mandarin, and their lessons are supplemented by compact discs produced by the Rosetta Stone company. Students who want to study less common languages, including Polish, German and Swedish, may use a self-directed Rosetta Stone program. Similarly, two students who speak a language other than English at home were perfecting their English with a Rosetta Stone program, Berger said.
The NYCiSchool opened with 100 ninth graders in the fall of 2008 and has since expanded to occupy two stories in the Chelsea Career and Technical High School, a rather rundown building constructed in 1848. Relations between the two schools in the building are cordial. The building has a tiny cafeteria and a small auditorium, but NYCi school added a top-notch laboratory as they expanded. There is no gym; physical education classes are held in a nearby recreation center. Some kids take dance classes after school, others get phys ed credit by biking with their parents.
The school, just a few blocks north of Canal Street, is convenient to many subway lines including the A, C, E, and 6 trains.
Special Education: The school offers Collaborative Team Teaching (CTT), Special Education Teacher Support Services (SETSS) and plans to open a self-contained class for special needs children. The staff works to meet the needs of all students in the general classrooms, according to the principals, including a few who are on the autism spectrum.
Admissions: Students are "screened" for admission. Preference is given to students who complete an online activity on the school's website, who score Level 3 or 4 on standardized tests and who have grades of 85 or above in their core academic classes. (Clara Hemphill, 2009; Tom Jacobs, May 2011)