University Heights Secondary School
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University Heights Secondary School
University Heights Secondary School has the best of both worlds: it offers the comfort of a small school and the variety of academic options usually found at a large school. Students have a dizzying range of choices both during and after school: high achievers may earn as many as 18 college credits and have off campus internships; students may grow vegetables in the school farm, join the robotics team or play in the school salsa band after school. University Heights is a gem in the South Bronx and should not be overlooked.
Top graduates have been admitted to highly selective colleges such as New York University, University of Wisconsin, Spellman, Bard, Vassar, Trinity, Sarah Lawrence, Brown and Columbia.
The school is warm and friendly with a collegial atmosphere. Students call their teachers by their first names. Teachers expect a level of academic maturity. For example, 10th graders in science class were instructed to use MLA style to format research logs for a big project due at the end of the semester. “I like our teachers and principal,” said Ryan, a senior. “They make us feel like we’re talking to our peers.”
University Heights belongs to a consortium of 30 schools whose students are exempt from taking most state Regents exams. They present portfolios of their work instead. Everyone must also log community service hours and complete at least one college course to graduate.
Each semester, the school offers seven college courses taught by professors who visit the school from Bronx Community College (the high school’s former home). Topics include business, psychology, painting and sociology.
Some students load up on the challenging classes and activities while others choose to take it easy. Some upperclassmen told us they had multiple hours of homework each night from Advanced Placement and college courses, but one 12th grader said it was her easiest year yet.
Class discussions were creative and thought-provoking. In history class, a group of sophomores compared the French Revolution and recent upheaval in Egypt. In tinkering class, freshman fashion household odds and ends into little battery-operated cars. The school is particularly strong in science and math: calculus, AP biology and physics are all offered. Principal Hazel Joseph Roseboro said four students (including two girls) went on to study engineering at colleges in 2012, including Purdue and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Roseboro has been at University Heights for nearly two decades, first as a student, then as a teacher and administrator. “I tell my students, ‘If I can do it, you can do it,’” she said.
Students are at ease with Roseboro. (A sophomore knocked on her door during our visit to borrow a pair of pants from her stash of extra uniforms after his ripped.) Staff members are happy, too. Turnover is very low. Every Friday, the entire staff gets together before the first bell for a school-sponsored breakfast, a tradition that’s as old as the school.
In recent years, University Heights evolved from a school for overage and under-credited kids to become the college-prep school it is today. In 2010, the school lost its space on the Bronx Community College and moved into its current home, in the South Bronx. Most students say they feel safe at school, according to the 2012 Learning Environment Survey.
The former elementary school building is shared with Mott Haven Village Preparatory School. Ten years ago, the building was home to South Bronx High School. The space is old and the hallways are narrow but the school is tidy. Some popular math and science classes are crowded with as many as 33 or 34 kids.
More than 30 community-based organizations provide services at the school. Good Shepherd staffs the school with four guidance counselors (one per grade) and helps run a farm behind the school parking lot. The organization also facilitates student volunteer work and internships. Inwood House runs after-school services, which range from salsa band to teen pregnancy prevention. And through a federal program called Upward Bound, students may take trips to visit colleges or to Washington, DC. Students chosen to participate in Summer Search take summer trips to visit colleges and, after junior year, may go abroad to places like Peru and Thailand.
University Heights has a beautiful new sports field for gym and after-school sports like volleyball, basketball, track and baseball. Sports teams are shared with Mott Haven Village Prep, as is a LYFE center, which offers free childcare to young mothers at both schools. The school also has a psychologist, nurse and a doctor on-site five days a week. The medical office provides shots, check-ups and physicals for college.
The school uniform is black pants or skirts and a white or purple button-down or polo shirt. No one is allowed to leave for lunch. Most students commute from Manhattan or the Bronx to school.
College: The school has produced nine POSSE scholarship recipients and two Gates Millennium scholarship recipients, whose education is fully funded through graduate school. There is a full-time college counselor and a buzzing college office.
Special education: University Heights has co-taught classes for students with special needs. Roseboro says there is a small but growing ELL population, as the student body is becoming more diverse with a recent uptick in South American, African and Asian students. Special education students also take college classes.
Admissions: Applicants must have grades of at least 75 in their 7th grade academic subjects. University Heights looks at attendance records and requires a writing sample and interview. Roseboro says good character sometimes trumps good grades. (Anna Schneider, November 2012)