Marsh Avenue School for Expeditionary Learning

Phone: (718) 370-6850
Website: Click here
Admissions: Lottery. Preference to District 31.
Principal: Cara De Angelo
Neighborhood: Central Staten Island
District: 31
Grade range: 06 thru 08
Parent coordinator: SUSANNE ROLNICK

What's special:

Hands-on learning, happy kids and teachers

The downside:

Not convenient for all SI residents

The InsideStats


Our review

Marsh Avenue School for Expeditionary Learning has become a top choice for middle school on Staten Island, drawing students from every neighborhood. Families are attracted by the creative curriculum, welcoming environment and gleaming new building.

Student "expeditions"—as the projects are known—may start in science or social studies class and carry over into English, math and other classes. In a lesson about the birth of the United States, students read literature from the period and visit Revolutionary War battlefields in New Jersey. Historians from the New-York Historical Society bring in diaries and other primary source documents.

They become investigators and keep journals, according to Principal Jessica Jenkins-Milona, who founded Marsh Expeditionary in 2008. They sit together in groups rather than at desks in rows, because, as the principal says, "Life is not in rows. When we work for a company, we work collaboratively."

Students produce a final project for a real audience. For example, children presented books they wrote about what and how they were learning at book signings at a chain bookstore. There are no honors classes at Marsh. Instead, the principal said, "We provide a learning environment that gets at every single student. We acknowledge that every students comes to us with unique learning needs and styles. We have to be responsive."

The school is part of the NYC Outward Bound network, and 6th graders go on a wilderness trip that teaches teamwork and perseverance. Students are assigned to a "crew" (similar to an advisory) that meets three days a week.

"That's where that one adult follows the kid for three years, developing a positive relationship, and tracking them academically and socially," said Jenkins-Milona. "It's one of the primary points of connection with parents and teachers."

Students lead parent-teacher conferences, after practicing in crew. In addition, virtually all of the parents come back for another conference with just the teachers.

"I feel like 150% of our parents are involved," said Jenkins-Milona."We're heavy duty on parent involvement. We do mini-expeditions for the parents related to what student learning in school."

Jenkins-Milona has high expectations for teachers too. "This is not a 7:30 to 2:30 job," she said. "Some of them have moved on. My goal is to keep 80 percent of teachers each year and we do."

Sixth and 7th graders graders take elective courses every day; 8th-graders three times a week. There's "a great music program" including beginner and advanced bands, digital image, broadcast journalism, dance, drawing, cartoons and creative writing. Courses change every quarter. Spanish is a requirement. About 70 percent of students stay for clubs and sports three days a week from 2:30 pm to 3:30 pm. Activities include tutoring, sports, student council, computer programming, rock bands, cheerleading, dance team, chess and science clubs.

The new building is shared with CSI International High School, the Gaynor McCown Expeditionary Learning School and Hungerford School, for students with disabilities. Each has a separate entrance and schedule but shares the gym, cafeteria and library. Marsh students have the early shift, with classes beginning at 7:30 am and ending at 2:30 pm every day except for Monday, when they get out at 1:53 pm, giving teachers time to plan together.

Most students stay on the island for high school, and many go to the two high schools that share the building. About 10 students go to the specialized high school, Staten Island Tech. An increasing number go to small Manhattan schools and a few go to Stuyvesant, the principal said.

Special education: CTT classes, SETSS classes and a self-contained, 12:1 class on every grade. School leaders say they are very committed to including students with special needs in all aspects of the school and adjusting teaching methods to fit students' different learning styles.

Admission: District 31 lottery. Parents must attend an open house and sign in. The principal visits elementary schools to ensure a diverse applicant pool. In 2011 the school received nearly 2,000 applications for 150 seats. The school is not easily accessible from all parts of the island but there is busing for all three grades. (Pamela Wheaton, interviews and web reports, October 2012)

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