Lower Manhattan Arts Academy
MANHATTAN NY 10002 Map
Lower Manhattan Arts Academy
Lower Manhattan Arts Academy (LoMA) opened in 2005 with the mission of promoting academics through daily immersion in the arts. Located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the school has developed strong partnerships with local arts and social service organizations to help provide students with lots of arts enrichment and academic support.
The school delivers on its mission of art for all. Typical LoMA students enter school with little or no formal training in the arts; roughly two-thirds begin 9th grade reading below grade level. “All students should be able to study art, which is why we’re not a selective school,” said founding principal, John Wenk, who taught at the Professional Performing Arts School and Seward Park High School before starting LoMA. Ninth graders rotate through 10 weeks each of drama, music, dance and visual arts. Students then choose major to pursue in grades 10 through 12.
In the art classes we visited, the students were uniformly engaged. Drama students listened attentively as a few of their classmates took direction from the teacher. In the tiny, mirror-lined dance room, sweaty students followed along to the teacher’s reworking of a dance sequence.
Many academic classes have two teachers, which helps all kids stay on task. Throughout the school, students were calm and most seemed engaged even during independent work. As a part of their study of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, students in 9th grade English spent the first few minutes of class writing commentaries on sexist messages in art and advertising. In an online Spanish class, students worked quietly at laptops. In chemistry, a couple of heads were on the desk, but all students were quiet and most were jotting notes while watching a short film projected from a SmartBoard. .
Students must take four years each of English, history, science and math. To bolster performance in science, 9th graders take a survey course that focuses on fundamental skills. Students start the traditional three-year sequence of Living Environment, Chemistry and Physics in the 10th grade.
Participation in after school activities is mandatory and in the 12th grade, students complete an internship, usually at a community organization. “Extra-curricular activities help students build social capital, valuable relationships that help you get what you want.” said Wenk. Indeed Wenk is a firm believer in social capital, having written his doctoral dissertation on the topic. His findings: “…the more students participated in extracurricular activities, the more likely they were to feel connected to their peers and staff, attend a safe school, graduate and go to college,” Wenk wrote in a weekly newsletter.
Advanced Placement (AP) English and all levels of Spanish are offered exclusively through online instruction. There are no accelerated classes, and other than AP English, no college level courses. Qualifying students, however, may take classes at New York University and John Jay College.
The school’s suspension rate is high, owing to a zero tolerance policy, according to Wenk. “We’re a progressive school, but also a strict one,” he said. To keep track of students’ progress, LoMA has three guidance counsellors, a high number for a small school. Daily, small group advisories provide students a forum for social and academic support. Social workers and student volunteers from New York University provide counselling and tutoring to students.
LoMA is one of five small, high schools housed in the Seward Park Campus building. All Seward Campus schools share use of the auditorium, gymnasium, cardio and weight room, cafeteria, swimming pool and library. There are no metal detectors onsite.
College admissions: Roughly 90 percent of graduates are accepted to college, with half enrolling in four-year programs. The college office provides ongoing support to a select group of recent graduates who return to LoMA weekly for help with their college work.
Special education: Thirty percent of students have special needs. LoMA has ICT (Integrated Collaborative Teaching) classes, each lead by two teachers; some also have a paraprofessional.
After school: Students athletes may participate in campus-wide PSAL sports teams. Onsite activities include the LoMA Theater Ensemble, chorus, dance, cheerleading, chess, student government, Model UN, swimming instruction, and tutoring. Offsite, students pursue arts activities and academic support at partner organizations like the Henry Street Settlement, Educational Alliance, New York Theatre Workshop and The Door.
Open Road of New York operates the building’s roof-top skate park, a vibrant and expansive space decorated by graffiti artists from around the world in conjunction with New Design High School. The skate program is open to students campus-wide. (Laura Zingmond, October, 2011)