Frederick Douglass Academy VIII Middle School

Phone: (718) 642-4305
Website: Click here
Admissions: Selective, District 19
Neighborhood: East New York
District: 19
Grade range: 06 thru 08

What's special:

Orderly, high-performing school, with strong arts and academics

The downside:

Far from the subway; early lunch and infrequent access to school yard

The InsideStats


Our review

Located in the shadow of the huge Spring Creek housing development, Frederick Douglass Academy VIII offers a safe, stimulating environment for children who travel from throughout District 19 for an education that allows them to explore the arts as well as academics.

At FDA VIII, like others in the loose network of Frederick Douglass Academy schools, students are known as scholars and classes are named after famous colleges. Teachers and administrators know each student and parent well—and scholars know they must follow the rules or risk being called out for demerits or detention. "We're very discipline-oriented," said Principal Yolanda Martin. "Kids can't learn in chaos; they can't feel safe in chaos."

Each morning begins with students reciting the FDA creed, which stresses "civilized behavior." In a 6th-grade class, we saw a writing lesson in which students described how they were incorporating the creed's tenets into their everyday lives. Whether wearing maroon sweaters and polo shirts, or sweat pants and a tee shirt for gym class, students were well-turned out and polite, actively engaged in the lessons.

Good behavior is expected but that doesn't mean that the middle-schoolers are expected to be silent. There was loud and lively discussion in many classes, with students working together on experiments, sharing their solutions for math problems, or critiquing one another's presentations in French class.

Two out of the four 8th-grade classes take math and science Regents exams for high school credit, as well as the French proficiency exam. Test prep begins early in the year—in October—with Monday and Wednesday afternoons dedicated to building skills after school.

It's not all academics, however. FDA VIII got a grant from the Matisse Foundation to expand the arts. It offers electives in visual arts, drama, dance, string instruments, drumming and debate club. Students are introduced to different arts forms in 6th grade and then choose to specialized in 7th grade. Average class size for academics is 25-28 in FDA VIII but the arts classes are much smaller.

To expand student horizons beyond East New York, in 2012, 30 students went on a 10-day trip to Europe, touring London, Spain and France; in 2010 a group of 50 students and parents went to Ghana.

FDA VIII occupies the fourth floor and one wing of the third floor in PS 346. The shared gym is on the small side but students also use the sports center at the Spring Creek housing complex. There is a new dance studio, a visual arts studio, and a music room, but no library. A downside of the shared space is that kids eat lunch very early at FDA VIII, at 10:18. The cafeteria is too small for everyone to eat together so 8th graders eat in a room across the hall. There is a large school yard but students rarely go out at lunch time, they said. The principal attributed that to a lack of school aides to supervise.

Graduates attend a variety of high schools, mainly in Brooklyn, including Midwood, Murrow, Brooklyn Tech and Brooklyn Latin. A few have gone to Bard, Murry Bergtraum, Talent Unlimited or Fashion Industries, in Manhattan.

After school: Mondays and Wednesdays are dedicated to academics; Tuesday and Thursday, there are arts activities such as a dance company, and Friday is for sports such as basketball or track and field.

Special education: Students with special needs must meet the academic criteria of the school. There are co-teaching classes as well as SETSS.

Admissions: Selective. Priority to District 19. Students and parents are interviewed. Students are given an assessment, and may present a portfolio for arts programs. There are about 575 applicants for 95 6th-grade seats. The school looks for supportive parents and students who will adhere to rules and uphold the uniform policy. Some students are admitted even though they may have scored below grade average on state tests, if it is "a passionate kid who really wants to be here," the principal said. "Our goal is to make them smarter by the time they leave. Can we help them along the way?" (Pamela Wheaton, October 2013)

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