The Facing History School
MANHATTAN NY 10019 Map
The Facing History School
Facing History High School encourages students to look at events in history as a basis for making decisions in their own lives. Using a progressive approach that favors projects and presentations over tests, Facing History places as emphasis on moral values.
Early on, students learn that people in history may be seen as “perpetrators,” “victims,” “bystanders” or “upstanders” (people who defend victims or confront perpetrators). Ultimately, Assistant Principal Mark Otto said, students learn that they can “choose to participate and make a difference.”
Housed on the second floor of the Park West complex, Facing History has an informal feel. Students call teachers by their first names, and the school uniform (white or black shirts, dark pants, dark shoes) is so flexible that it’s not immediately obvious uniforms are required.
Students in most classrooms we visited seemed interested in their studies. They participated in group discussion and appeared comfortable when speaking in front of their fellow students. Some told us Facing History was not their first choice for a high school, but they grew to love it. “This was the last one on my list,” admitted Wesly, a 19-year-old senior, but he added: “If I could go back and put it first, I would definitely put it first.” Eighty percent of the students responding to the Learning Environment Survey said their teachers inspire them to learn, and nearly 90 percent said their teachers encourage them to succeed.
“It’s a big family, this school,” said Manny, a senior. Teachers often stay late to help students, Manny said, and “they are here because they care about our education.” The school’s small size limits electives (there is no computer lab or traditional music classes), but students may try out for a range of campus-wide varsity sports teams.
Facing History shares the Park West complex with the High School of Hospitality Management, Manhattan Bridges High School, Food and Finance High School, Urban Assembly School of Design and Construction and PS 138 (a small school for severely disabled students). The schools take turns using the shared cafeterias, gyms, auditorium and library. Students must pass through metal detectors, but kids we spoke to said they felt safe on the campus and had seen few fights.
Principal Dana Panagot (pronounced PAN-uh-gott) was among the founding administrators when Facing History opened in 2005. The not-for-profit organization Facing History and Ourselves offers professional development for faculty.
Facing History is a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools, a consortium of progressive schools that have scrapped lecture-style classes and memorization in favor of performance-based group work and public presentations. A waiver allows Facing History to issue Regents diplomas even though the only Regents test students must pass is the English Language Arts exam.
But student work is still judged. Ninth- and 10th-graders show off their work at a “portfolio roundtable,” while juniors and seniors present to a four-person panel during one-hour review sessions known as the Performance-Based Assessment Test. In these, students often are asked to explain subjects in depth or work through a math problem on the board while the panel observes.
Rather than merely fill in a bubble on a test sheet, “The kids are able to talk through what they know and why they know it,” Otto said. “They are used to defending their work, either in writing or in person.”
Many 9th-graders arrive needing remedial help, and Facing History’s four-year graduation rate is mediocre. Otto says the school encourages students who don’t graduate on time to stay, and the 6-year graduation rate is somewhat higher.
Special education: Students with special needs are taught in Integrated Co-Teaching classes, which feature two teachers (one of whom is certified to teach special education). About one-fourth of students require special attention.
Admissions: Limited unscreened. Preference is given to students who attend a school open house. (Skip Card, June 2102)