Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School
BRONX NY 10460 Map
Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School
Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School is a refreshing haven in a bleak, but improving section of the South Bronx. The school follows a progressive model in which students call teachers and administrators by their first names. Staff places greater emphasis on oral reports and student "portfolios" over standardized tests, and students spend a lot of time working in groups. It's a member of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, a group of schools opposed to high stakes testing whose students are exempt from having to take the majority of Regents exams.
Since most students live in the struggling neighborhood, the school has adopted a community mindset to address academic and social-emotional needs. Peace fairs target neighborhood violence, Saturday parent academies encourage family engagement and a partnership with the Children's Aid Society Bronx Family Center provides access to medical and dental services.
The school exterior looks like a desolate and grim factory across the service road of the Sheridan Expressway. All the windows are protected by wire. However, the picture inside couldn’t be more different. The building is colorfully bright and clean, non-shared and features a well-equipped library and technology lab. It is wheelchair accessible and has no metal detectors or cameras. The lunchroom is cheerful,with round burgundy tables and student murals on the walls.
Fannie Lou divides students into three "houses"; La Casa for 9th & 10th grade, Power House for 11th grade and Adventure House for 12th grade. The school’s small classes and mixed ages in the early grades are designed to build academic skills and prevent students from falling through the cracks. Students typically maintain a two-year cycle with one teacher to help develop a good rapport.
The high schoolers we spoke to said they preferred portfolios to tests, and when we asked them about their assignments, some described in detail what they were learning, while others were not as sure. The day we visited, 9th- and 10th-grade students read silently in their humanities class. Students were allowed to read books on their cell phones or select comics and World of Warcraft series books. Once class shifts to the social studies component on the Holocaust, students read books as group. Options include Never to Forget, Rescue, I am a Star, Night and Maus.
In the math and science class, we saw students working on MAC laptops using Khan Academy, a website providing free self-paced academic practice material. For science, students typically move over to lab area across the room where they engage in a hands-on ecology unit, such as abstracting DNA from insects. Students save their work in Google Drive and teachers provide assignments and homework there as well. All student work from past years is stored online and becomes useful for tracking their development.
The online tool has been instrumental at Fannie Lou, allowing teachers to post more comprehensive resource lists and rubrics for essay writing that students can consult as they work. A humanities teacher noted that she sees more variety in paper topics and use of reliable sources. One student that just completed an essay on the Haitian revolution developed her research skills using this tool. She said, “It was easier to improve my own idea and follow steps. It was challenging 'cause it forced me to use greater variety of research.” The student also realized that her paper would have been shorter without the online support.
Though current college readiness is low, the staff encourages students to think about college early on with various programs: College Now and NYU Preview give students access to real college courses, and EXCEL guides students through the financial aid and scholarship process. The school also has an active Student Success Center with a full time counselor that incorporates SAT prep. The administration estimates that 50 percent of graduates go on to four-year colleges, and an additional 30 percent go to two-year programs. Students also take part in community service programs and internships.
Admission: Priority to Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School students. Approximately 30 percent continue on to the high school, making the transition easier since they already know the building from after-school and Saturday school programs. There is also priority to Bronx residence and those who attend the information sessions.
After school: Middle school students and high school students can partake in an array of activities including archery, cooking and fitness. Doors stay open until 6 pm.
Special education: The high school has both "self-contained"—special needs students only—and integrated co-teaching (ICT) classes. These classes mix students with special needs and general education students, and are headed by two teachers, one a specialist in special education. The school hopes to add more ICT classes. (Jacquie Wayans, February 2013)