M.S. 243 Center School
MANHATTAN NY 10024 Map
M.S. 243 Center School
A tiny gem of a place, the Center School is one of the most popular middle schools in the city. In some ways, it’s a relaxed place: Kids are encouraged to move around the classrooms and to chat with one another as they work. At the same time, the subject matter is traditional: Latin is mandatory, and everyone is expected to spell properly, and to learn conventional geography and algebra.
The school moved to PS 9 in 2009 because the building that had long housed it, PS 199, became overcrowded. Center School has adjusted quickly to the new space. Classrooms and hallways are covered with student material. The school has a stable, experienced staff led by its long-time principal, Elaine Schwartz.
Most classes combine 5th to 8th grade students, with the exception of math and Latin, which divide children by grade level. Instead of receiving conventional report cards, children write their own evaluations in November. The school is divided into trimesters, and at the end of each one, teachers write long comments, and children add their own notes.
In a “Mini Unit” (which students have for one trimester per year), students discussed the film Food Inc., analyzing their own and more general American food choices based on the movie’s theme. Every classroom we visited contained enthusiastic and fully engaged students, and the level of critical discussion was much higher than in the average middle school conversations. Many even spilled over into the breaks between classes.
Teachers are experienced and passionate, with considerable autonomy in how they teach their lessons. They follow state requirements, but create the curriculum for each 10-week lesson individually. “It’s more interesting when the students really learn something. We can get really in-depth. Skills are more important than learning facts,” says teacher Carolyn Tacey. Every teacher is an advisor to 10 to 12 students and meets with them once a week. Students also keep a journal that their advisor responds to regularly.
Students have special classes like theater and Latin for 2 ½ hours per week for at least one trimester and there is a daily one-hour “Enrichment” period for silent reading and special individualized help. An afterschool program three days per week offers homework help, computers, sports and guitar lessons.
Special education: There is a small math class for students needing extra help. Most students receiving special education services are included in regular classes and get one-on-one help during enrichment periods.
Admissions: Prospective students and parents visit the school for a half day; their student escort and a teacher write an evaluation following the visit. Applicants are discussed in a faculty meeting, and qualified applicants are selected with an emphasis on balancing ability level, race and ethnicity. Priority is given to siblings of current and former students. Approximately 200 students apply for 50 spots in 5th grade each year. (Aryn Bloodworth, November 2010)