Harry S Truman High School
BRONX NY 10475 Map
Harry S Truman High School
A large high school with a growing number of special needs students and English language learners, Harry S. Truman has done an admirable job of helping kids graduate on time. Truman offers decent academics along with specialized academies in media, law, business, pre-engineering, Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and culinary arts. One of the few remaining large high schools in the Bronx, the big, sprawling campus offers an array of extras the new small schools can’t match.
“We want to stay large,” said Principal Sana Nasser. “It’s not the size, it’s what you offer your clients. I want them to have the full experience because that’s what the kids in the suburbs get.”
Students spend one period a day in their chosen academies, which seemed lively and fun the day of our visit. Media participants chatted comfortably as they worked on TV ads in three interconnected studios. In the kitchen, a girl sliced homemade mozzarella to top two large pizzas while a boy expertly doused pasta with olive oil from a squirt bottle. Teaching looked solid in English, math, science and social studies where students were calm, if a little passive, compared to the academies.
“Truman’s not as bad as everyone makes it out to be,” offered a freshman on his way to school. “The academics are good, I’m not gonna lie,” said a sophomore.
Nasser has resurrected a long-dormant swimming pool (opening Spring 2012), and a planetarium; adding Smart Boards and computers. The impressive facilities include professional kitchens, a mock courtroom and eight gyms for basketball, volleyball, weightlifting, yoga, aerobics, wrestling and more. Lots of alumni stop by to say hello and volunteer in the culinary and media programs. “You know you’re on the right track when kids are coming back,” Nasser said.
The school shares an interconnected campus with Bronx Health Sciences and two middle schools, MS 180 and 181; PS 153; and a separate elementary program for autistic children. Initially designed for families from Co-op City in the 1970s, now most students commute from other parts of the Bronx and it can be a struggle to make it on time to their 8 a.m. class. Since 2011 students wear uniforms – a black or gray polo shirt and pants and some students resist. On our visit we overheard Nasser speaking in her office with a girl and her parents about the student's reluctance to wear the new uniform. “I want her to go back to class right now. I want her to understand she is going to college,” said Nasser in a warm yet firm tone to the parents.
Parent participation is a challenge. Roughly half of the families live at poverty level and some are very hard to reach. Students who have out-of-service home numbers are stopped in the morning and new numbers are dialed on the spot to make sure they work. One teacher at a time builds a relationship with families of at-risk teens to avoid alienating parents who would otherwise receive calls from many teachers. At-risk seniors get intensive small-group test prep and have mentors to keep them on track for graduation.
Enrollment has declined in recent years and staff grumbles that new small schools have been siphoning off top freshman. The staff has stabilized over the last five years and recruitment is not the issue it once was: over 90 percent of the staff has been with the school two years or more. Nasser is “extremely supportive” of first year teachers said a principal-in-training.
Lagging 9th graders get an additional literacy class and a double period of math. In a 9th-grade math class we saw both fast and slow learners working on the same problem at the same time – although each student was given time to work through the problem at his or her own pace. Bright 10th graders who score well on the Algebra or Living Environment Regent’s tests are tapped to be peer tutors through a program at Hunter College. A growing percentage of students graduate with college credits from places like Queensborough Community College and St. John’s University.
Special education: Over 500 students have individual educational plans and over 300 are in self-contained classrooms with a special education teacher. Special education teachers work closely with general education teachers on professional development.
There are more than 100 English language learners. Trained teachers “push in” to regular academic classes such as science and math. After school help is available.
College Admissions: The majority of students go on to two-year colleges with roughly 30 percent admitted to four-year colleges, mostly CUNY schools.
Admissions: Zoned school. Pre-engineeering and JROTC programs are screened. (Lydie Raschka, November 2011)