Eleanor Roosevelt High School
MANHATTAN NY 10021 Map
Eleanor Roosevelt High School
One of the most sought-after schools in the city, Eleanor Roosevelt High School (aka ELRO) on Manhattan's Upper East Side provides an abundance of resources, class offerings, and opportunities that most New York City public schools only dream of acquiring. In 2008, 100 percent of students graduated in four years, and fewer than a handful did not attend a four-year college. The school, however, is required to give priority to District 2 students, and therefore very few seats are available for out-of-district kids.
Building and location: Located on a tranquil side street, ELRO looks and feels more like a private institution than a public school. Wide hallways, immaculately polished floors, windows in every classroom, and spotless modern bathrooms make the former Sotheby's warehouse one of the most impressive school buildings in the city. It is just a short walk from a host of museums, institutions, universities, and Central Park, where the baseball team practices. Local residents frequently donate items to the school: When a tenant across the street relocated, he donated his baby grand piano to the school.
The school boasts two large science labs and two science demo rooms. There is a music room with four small soundproof practice suites, and a separate storage room for wind and string instruments. A large art room has three kilns and digital photography equipment. There are also 11 laptop carts and a separate technology room filled with desktop computers. Most classrooms are large. The cafeteria and gym, however, are small.
School environment and culture: The school feels like a well-to-do, traditional, small suburban school. In September, entering 9th-graders attend an overnight camp to work on team-building skills. ELRO students are mature and focused, and the administration speaks to them like responsible adults. With fewer than 150 students per grade, everybody knows each other. Students say they feel safe and their teachers are always available for extra help. There are no bells and, unlike most public schools, ELRO hallways were calm and students didn't require any prompts to get to class on time. While the majority of students in New York City public schools are black or Hispanic, 80 percent of ELRO students are either white or Asian, reflecting the District 2 population. We noticed that during lunch, the cafeteria was filled with mostly Asian students, while white students ate lunch off-campus.
Teaching and curriculum: All the teachers we observed were extremely knowledgeable, passionate, and creative. Lessons are fast-paced, cover content in detail, and often mimicked a college lecture with a touch of teen-nurturing. Teachers guide classroom discussions by probing students with thought-provoking questions: "Who has been our helpful friend in genetic engineering?" asked one teacher. "Bacteria," responded one student. In an Advanced Placement U.S. History course, students compared their responses to a survey about "chief moral qualities" with student responses from 1924, which resulted in a highly-engaged conversation about life in the era that ended with the Great Depression. The school's course offerings look like a catalogue from a small college. Students can choose among 11 AP courses, and many electives, such as digital photography, videography, organic chemistry, forensics, philosophy of criminology, music, and drama. Students who develop a passion for a subject also have opportunities to work on in-depth projects and research projects.
Art is also integrated into academic lessons. Walls were covered with student projects. In a science room, a student created mitochondria out of foil, construction paper, and a shoebox, while in a Spanish class a student created a poster size Facebook page in Spanish.
ELRO has an impressive array of clubs, such as the ski/snowboarding club, gardening club, Friday film clubs, and the green team club, which purchased separate recycling trash cans for paper, plastics, and non-recyclable trash. Students can also participate in baseball, basketball, track, cross country running, soccer, softball, tennis, and volleyball.
Family participation: Typically about 40-60 parents attend a PTA meeting, according to Marty Trachtenberg, the school's parent coordinator. The PTA sponsors an annual auction that raises over $30,000. During our visit, Principal Dimitri Saliani often referred to overseas trips and expensive equipment being paid for by a "private donation," although he would not disclose the total amount.
Partnerships and programs: Students can work with professors at Rockefeller University, Museum of Natural History, Barnard College, and Polytechnic University. In 2009, five students worked with a physics professor to enter an international physics competition in Israel. Their project - a box with a lock that can only be opened by decoding physics principles - came in fifth place.
Special education: Ten students have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), and receive additional support outside their regular classes.
Admissions: Preference is given to students who live in District 2 or attend a District 2 middle school; very few students are admitted from outside the district, according to the guidance counselor. The school receives applications from 500-600 qualified applicants - those who have scored a 3 or 4 on their 7th grade state exams and have been late or absent fewer than 10 times. Some students are admitted with "high 2s" if they provide a good explanation in a supplementary letter, the counselor said.
After graduation: In 2008, all but three seniors attended a four-year college. Some go on to private colleges like Bard College or Brown or Carnegie Mellon Universities, while others choose public institutions such as the University of California at San Diego, Virginia State University, as well as SUNY and CUNY schools. During the 2008-09 school year, students received at total of $2.5 million in merit-based scholarships, according to the school's college guidance counselor.
Also of note: The principal is creating a online system that, with the help of Google Docs, staff can track students' progress in multiple subjects on tests, homework, and their overall achievement to find out whether they require special services. Everybody in the school has an ELRO e-mail account. When a student needs a form signed or a letter of recommendation, they simply send an e-mail. (Vanessa Witenko, April 2009)