Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice
BRONX NY 10451 Map
Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice
Metal detectors are noticeably absent at the entrance to Bronx School for Law, Government & Justice, but students don't walk in the door without inspection. Each morning, principal Meisha Ross-Porter and her two assistant principals stand in the lobby, greeting arrivals while ensuring dress codes are obeyed.
"We make a big thing out of little things, so we don't have huge things," explained Ross-Porter, who since 2004 has been principal of a school known for discipline and order. Students can often be seen stopping in the foyer, changing out of forbidden boots or sneakers into acceptable black dress shoes. Once inside, past the cluster of sharp-eyed administrators, students typically head to a mandatory 8:15 a.m. meeting — high schoolers in the cafeteria, and middle schoolers in the gym.
Bronx School for Law, Government & Justice's stated goal is to educate students while introducing them to topics that could lead to careers in law or government. The school sits next door to the Bronx's new glass-walled criminal courthouse, where students often visit as part of mentoring programs with judges and lawyers. LGJ (as it's often called) features a mock courtroom and a small law library. More than a dozen law firms and companies (including several News Corp. divisions) offer internships.
Classroom assignments often have a legal flavor. One English class we observed drilled students in how to make claims and counter-claims. Forensic science is a required course. Debate is a popular after-school club and the source of virtually all the trophies in the display case, as well as favorable press.
But the combined middle and high school also stresses core academic subjects amid a dose of old-school discipline. School uniforms include ties for both boys and girls. Students are given lockers, but locker privileges are revoked if rules are broken. (Books or coats carried in a shopping bag are telltale signs locker use has been suspended.) Classes we visited appeared orderly and polite. Principal Porter said she sometimes goes off-campus to fetch a tardy student spotted at a nearby store. At a school party, Ross-Porter used a water bottle to squirt students who were dancing inappropriately close to each other. ("They're never happy after a party," she said.)
Some students appeared weary of the strict rules, but most seemed accustomed to the rigid order and appreciated a feeling of safety. The school "was everything they said it was going to be," said Raven, a 17-year-old junior who had been at LGJ since 7th grade and who hopes to become a federal defense attorney. Even the dress code had its positive side, Raven said. "I don't have to wake up every morning dying about what I'm going to wear," she said.
LGJ opened in 1997, the first of New York's Urban Assembly schools. Since 2003, LGJ has been housed in a modern brick building located about seven blocks from Yankee Stadium. The middle school is mostly on the first and second floors, while high school classes occupy the third and fourth floors. The building features modern science and Mac-equipped computer labs, a large basement cafeteria plus a full-size indoor gym and fitness center (each grade takes PE three to five days a week), but the campus has no auditorium, courtyard or outdoor athletic facilities. The absence of metal detectors at a Bronx high school is a rare and welcome surprise.
Principal Ross-Porter admits LGJ struggles to raise its graduation rate. "Obviously, we want it to be higher," she said. The school has three guidance counselors, including one who focuses on 12th-graders to help them meet deadlines and fill in missing credits. Students who failed Regents examinations (the most common reason seniors don't graduate) can often take classes designed specifically to prep for another try.
College admissions: About 80 percent of graduates are accepted into four-year colleges. John Jay College of Criminal Justice is a popular choice, but top graduates have also been accepted to elite colleges such as Brown and Dartmouth. The school partners with the income-tax firm H&R Block in a program designed to help seniors apply for college financial aid.
After school: In addition to its popular debate program, LGJ also offers fencing, track, dance, chorus and theater. The school has varsity basketball, baseball, volleyball and softball teams.
Special education: LGJ has self-contained and integrated co-teaching (ICT) classes, as well as SETSS support services.
Admissions: Students must attend an open house and fill out an application. In 2010, 700 students applied for 90 available 6th-grade seats. Applicants are ranked based on their interest in the school, and between 120 and 150 finalists earn interviews. ("You'll never get in this school if you just put us on your application," Principal Porter said.) The school selects half the students, and the Department of Education selects the other half. About 90 percent of 8th-graders stay at LGJ to attend high school. Students can live anywhere in New York, but most are from Harlem or Districts 9 and 10 in the Bronx. (Skip Card, December 2011)