High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College

Phone: (212) 281-6490
Website: Click here
Admissions: selective
Wheelchair accessible
Principal: Crystal Bonds
Neighborhood: Harlem
District: 5
Grade range: 09 thru 12

What's special:

Challenging, racially diverse school on a college campus

The downside:

Claustrophobic classrooms

The InsideStats



Our review

The High School for Math, Science and Engineering is a haven for smart, curious, affable teens who want to take college-level classes while still in high school. The school has a nice racial balance, with whites, blacks, Asians and Latinos each making up about one-quarter of the student body.

Housed in the 100-year-old Bakersville Hall on the City College campus, HSMSE offers students access to the college cafeteria, gym and libraries as well as college credit for some of their classes. The school’s small size and devoted staff—some of whom have PhDs--help make a heavy workload manageable.

The school focuses on the applications of science, and classes have a practical bent. “You learn a lot but you don’t realize it,” said a senior who wants to study art at Cooper Union. “It’s information you can apply right away.”

In the Innovation and Design elective, we watched students compare their cell phones in order to evaluate user-friendliness in a diverse, relaxed atmosphere with lots of inter-racial interaction.

Spanish is offered, as is German, the language of engineers. Not all parents agree that German is the most practical choice, but Principal Crystal Bonds calls the language a “leveler,” in which kids can learn and grow together.

Beginning junior year, students concentrate on engineering, math or science. All of the teachers in the engineering concentrations are trained engineers. Students in the math concentration take two college-credit math courses their junior year and may take Advanced Placement Calculus BC their senior year. Only 20 juniors and 20 seniors are admitted to the science concentration; they travel by city bus to Mt. Sinai Hospital to don white lab coats and learn about research and clinical practice. Back at school, this close-knit group is apt to be found in an upstairs hallway, eating brown bag lunches, before attending afternoon classes and electives.

The school may specialize in math, science and engineering, but the humanities teacher points out that students do better on the Regent’s English exam than any other subject.

The versatile teaching staff offers electives like astronomy, history of the 1960s, and gastronomy (where students taste prosciutto, chocolate and cheese, and report on tasting trips on their foodconsidered.com blog.) Teachers, many of whom are also college professors, say they like their work. In turn, students feel supported. A parent said, “Teachers plead with the kids to come and get one-on-one tutoring if they have any problems.”

Bonds, who became principal in 2011, has experience as both an administrator and a parent in the city's specialized schools: she was formerly assistant principal for guidance at Brooklyn Tech and her daughter attended Bronx High School of Science. One parent told us she has brought a fresh perspective and lots of enthusiasm. On our visit, she articulated the school's goals clearly and seemed to have a good rapport with teachers.

The building is an obvious downside. You enter on the basement level dominated by air vents. Large pillars make already small classrooms feel claustrophobic. However, the building’s downsides are balanced by an accepting atmosphere and students’ ability to roam the City College of New York campus: they eat on the grassy quad, play sports in the Nat Holman gymnasium and have access to six libraries.

College: Graduates have been admitted to highly selective colleges such as Brown, Columbia, Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore, and Johns Hopkins. About half the graduates go to engineering schools and half to liberal arts programs.

Special education: The school has about a dozen students with Individualized Educational Plans.

Admissions: Students are admitted based on their scores on the entrance exam also given for Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech and the other specialized high schools. Prospective parents may attend an open house in October. (Lydie Raschka, October, 2012)

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