Midwood High School
BROOKLYN NY 11210 Map
Midwood High School
The packed Midwood High School building, right next to Brooklyn College, buzzes with bright, motivated students who may choose from 16 Advanced Placement classes and electives ranging from constitutional law, to psychobiology to medieval literature. Teachers are experienced and many are Midwood graduates themselves.
About half of the massive student body is enrolled in selective programs that compete with the top schools in the city. In one class we visited students were completing a DNA extraction. Downstairs, the library was filled with students studying during their free periods. Several juniors left mid-day for an internship in doctors' labs.
The other half of the student body is zoned for the school. As in many large schools with big classes, students who are not self-motivated sometimes don't get the attention they need, although the school has recently put programs in place to try and engage its at-risk students. This massive and genuinely diverse school functions well, although dirty bathrooms and crowded hallways make some students uncomfortable.
Students in the Medical Science Institute take five years of science in four years and concentrate in research, robotics or medical issues. Those with good grades may pursue research projects in local hospitals and universities. Students admitted to the Humanities program must take at least four years of foreign language, including one year of Latin. Thousands of students apply for 300 seats in the medical science program and 175 seats in the humanities program.
All science classes, including organic chemistry and anatomy are held in a beautiful building that opened in 2008, with brand new lab equipment. There is an emphasis on hands-on learning.
The zoned students are admitted into the Liberal Arts and Science Institute and may choose from four strands: pre-engineering and technology, performing arts, law, and communication media arts. Those who do well may choose to focus on American history or health careers in their second year.
Ninth graders in the zoned program may to move to a selective program after their first year if teachers believe they can handle the workload. About 10 percent do move. "We see the whole picture," said a veteran guidance counselor who sent her own child to the school. "It's crazy that just one number could define a child."
Principal David Cohen is well-regarded by most of his teachers and is committed to improving the school where needed. "We look at weaknesses so we can fix problems," said Cohen. He wants to give more individual attention to struggling students and improve communication within the school. He plans to implement a school newsletter in the 2011-12 school year. Level 1 and 2 students are tracked onto a three-semester course with smaller class sizes for remedial work. A big brother program for black males meets twice a week to help improve the graduation rate for those students.
Teachers post homework assignments and test scores on a website that parents can access. Several parents said they find it helpful in keeping up with their children's progress. They also appreciate the school's lenient "don't ask don't tell" cell phone policy, which allows students to keep their phones in their bags, as long as they do not pull them out during school hours.
Peer and departmental tutoring is available if a student is willing to seek it out. "If you are self-motivated, you will do fine here, teachers will help you," said one student. "But you have to be willing to say if you need help, because it's not going to just come and find you." Although the school has 12 guidance counselors, some students reported on the 2011 Learning Environment Survey that there weren't adults in the building with whom they felt comfortable discussing a personal problem.
Classes in the zoned program are less rigorous, but students participate and teachers treat them with respect. Some kids complain that a small handful of disruptive students can derail a class conversation. Students from different programs mix in a handful of classes such as robotics and in the many clubs. Although there is somewhat of a racial divide between the selective and zoned programs, students say that there is not a big social divide. In 2009 79 percent of the students in the zoned program graduated in four years; the overall school graduation rate was 92 percent.
Midwood's size allows it to offer a huge spectrum of courses (including 17 AP classes), clubs and sports. There is a court room where students can take mock trial in conjunction with a local law firm. Electives include megatronics, forensics, symphony, marching band, gospel choir, video production and history of resistance. There are 33 athletic teams and more than 50 clubs including Bollywood dance, environmental club, philosophy, step team and composers club.
College is a primary focus for many students. The day we visited seniors were huddled in the college office where there are two full-time college advisors for 800 seniors. The school is proud of its three Harvard acceptances for its class of 2011. Many students go to CUNY and SUNY colleges, especially Baruch, Albany, Binghamton, Brooklyn College and City College. Others enroll at Brandeis, Cornell, Cooper Union, Howard University, Johns Hopkings, Wesleyan, Temple and Penn State. About 84 percent of the 2010 grads went to four year colleges and 11 percent to two year programs. Office staff help seniors prepare applications. English teachers make themselves available to read student college essays.
The school day begins at 7:15 a.m. for some seniors and the last class for all students ends at 3:20 p.m. Students who have to travel long distances to the school are exempt from the early start.
Teachers consider Midwood a desirable school, and turnover is relatively low. Classroom styles vary and Cohen generally lets teachers choose methods of instruction as long as students are showing progress, teachers say.
Special education: The school has several Integrated Co-Teaching classes for special education students. About 75 students are in self-contained classrooms.
Admissions: Zoned school. Students who have at least a 90 average in their core courses and score Level 3 or 4 on their state exams and have good attendance may apply to the Medical Science Institute or the Humanities program. In addition, Haitian Creole speakers with grades of 85 or above may apply to a bilingual Medical Science Institute. (Meredith Kolodner, October 2011)