The Urban Assembly New York Harbor School

Phone: (212) 458-0800
Website: Click here
Admissions: Citywide
Noteworthy Special Education
Principal: Edward Biedermann
Neighborhood: Governor's Island
District: 2
Grade range: 09 thru 12
Parent coordinator: JENNY GONZALEZ

What's special:

Kids may build boats, farm oysters and go scuba diving

The downside:

Students and teachers must depend on the ferry to come and go

The InsideStats


Our review

The Urban Assembly New York Harbor School gives students the chance to build boats, sail boats, and even scuba dive as part of an imaginative curriculum designed to prepare them for careers on the water. The goal is to expose them to disciplines ranging from aquaculture (farming fish) to marine technology (being an engineer on a boat) whether they decide to attend college or to go to work as soon as they graduate from high school.

The day we visited, a handful of students had just returned from an early morning motor boat trip to the Bronx, where they had planted oysters in the bay as part of a school project to clean the city’s waterways. They learned that a single oyster can clean many gallons of water.

Housed in a beautifully renovated building on the leafy Governor’s Island, The Harbor School has plenty of fish tanks and pleasant sun-filled classrooms. Students and teachers take a ferry (which runs once an hour) from the southern tip of Manhattan – a trip which is both one of the school’s most charming features and its most obvious drawback: Students who miss the ferry by a minute or two have to wait for the next one and are therefore a full hour late to class. Another drawback: there is no gym or swimming pool.

The school serves a wide range of academic abilities, from struggling readers to kids who are ready for Advanced Placement courses. A few graduates have been admitted to top-tier colleges, including Cornell University and Middlebury College. It has a robust college office with a fulltime college counselor, a guidance counselor, and a social worker. At the same time, the school has a special mission to engage students who have not been academic stars; the majority of ninth graders enter reading below grade level. Most of the academic classes we visited were designed to prepare students for Regents exams, but we also saw a shop were students were building a 21-foot wooden sloop.

The school is reinventing the notion of Career and Technical Education, working with the state Education Department to devise certificates to demonstrate the mastery of useful maritime skills. For example, students may become certified as scuba divers (and may get jobs inspecting bulkheads or working on a rescue mission). Others may go on to the SUNY Maritime College in Queens to become a captain or engineer. One graduate went to work on a New York Water Taxi. Another became a deck hand on a tugboat.     

In 2012, Nate Dudley who founded the Harbor School in 2003 accepted a job with the network that works with Harbor. Edward Biedermann, 31, assistant principal since 2010, became the interim acting principal. Previously he had been a teacher and head of the social studies department at Chelsea Career and Technical Education High School. In an interview with Downtown Express, he spoke about Harbor's new Marine Science and Technology center which houses the aquaculture, vessel operations and underwater diving programs. "We need to continue exposing the students, many of whom come from landlocked communities, to new experiences that bring them closer to the water. For many, these experiences will prepare them for life-long careers on or near the water," he said, adding that the school would also provide more opportunities to explore a theme of social justice.

Special education:  The school offers a wide range of special education services. We saw a small, self-contained class in which student were getting one-on-one attention from teachers trained in the Orton-Gillingham methods to improve reading skills.

Admissions: There are no admission requirements. Priority goes to students who attend an open house. (Clara Hemphill, October, 2010/upated September, 2012)

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