J.H.S. 54 Booker T. Washington
MANHATTAN NY 10025 Map
J.H.S. 54 Booker T. Washington
OCTOBER 2013 UPDATE: MS 54 has changed its admissions criteria. All students must have combined 4th grade ELA and Math 4th standardized test scores of at least 635 to be considered for admission. Once admitted, children are assigned to either the honors or the academic program. The CORE program is being phased out.
DECEMBER 2011 REVIEW: A single middle school serving two different student populations, Booker T. Washington School (M.S. 54) at times seems to have a split personality. Two-thirds of the students are in the school's demanding Delta program, a sought-after honors track designed to keep bright kids on a fast academic pace. The remaining one-third of the students are in the school's CORE program, which offers a broader curriculum designed for a range of academic abilities.
The administration has worked hard to bring the programs together. "We operate as one school," said Elana Elster, the school's principal since 2005. CORE and Delta classrooms share floors throughout Booker T's historic building, and all students have equal access to music and art programs. Twelve of the school's 55 faculty members teach classes across both programs. Students mingle at lunch periods and in the outdoor areas of the campus. The building has a single PTA, and after-school programs are open to all. Yet the academic demands of the two programs are quite different, with lots of homework in Delta and not so much in CORE.
Booker T. Washington School is housed in a historic three-story brick building that takes up half a block at 107th Street and Columbus Avenue in a mixed-use section of the Upper West side a few blocks from the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. The campus features a row of outdoor basketball hoops and an attractive turf-coated athletic field large enough for soccer and softball (a rarity in Manhattan), but its small cafeteria means students must eat lunch in three shifts, one for each grade. "The building was built at a time when kids went home for lunch," Elster said. Student work decorates the narrow hallways, and the colorful, air-conditioned classrooms often have class projects on display. The school has a library packed with books and a modern computer lab stocked with Macs. The nurse's office is a satellite of Ryan Community Health Center.
Students in the Delta program arrive at or above grade level in reading and math. Many might be strong in one subject yet merely average in another, but all are highly motivated. "They accept the idea of homework. We don't have to battle about that," said Andrew Bergen, Delta's coordinator. (Delta students typically have two hours of homework each weekday night, but often no weekend assignments.) Delta students study Spanish, French and Latin in 6th grade, and in 7th grade can choose to study Chinese. By 8th grade, many students are taking high-school level math and science courses.
Delta teachers seemed to enjoy working with bright, inquisitive kids. In an 8th-grade humanities class we visited, students were discussing and memorizing Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and hands flew up when the teacher asked challenging questions. A student who said "relative" when he meant "relevant" was quickly corrected by his fellow 8th-graders.
Students in CORE (which stands for Creating Opportunities for Rigorous Education) range in ability. Some are high achievers but most are still working to master English, or have special needs that require extra attention. Homework loads are lighter than in Delta. CORE students can study Spanish and French. Discipline in one CORE class we visited seemed a bit stern: One science instructor who ordered a female student to throw out her chewing gum used a loud, angry voice. High-achieving CORE students might take accelerated courses comparable to what Delta students study, but students do not transfer out of one program into the other.
All Booker T. Washington 6th-graders study music through a three-part yearlong curriculum that introduces them to band, strings and chorus. In 7th-grade, students can choose to continue in music or enroll in other arts-related courses.
Special education: Most students with special needs are in the CORE program. The school features four self-contained special education classrooms plus SETSS resources for extra help. The school also has three ICT classes (one per grade) that mix special-needs students with others from the general population. ICT classes feature two teachers, one of whom is certified to teach special education. Students who are learning to speak English are integrated into general ed classrooms but receive additional language support.
Admissions: District 3. Admission information is available on the MS 54 website. (Skip Card, December, 2011, admissions updated October 2013.)