Tompkins Square Middle School

Phone: (212) 995-1430
Website: Click here
Admissions: District 1.
Neighborhood: East Village
District: 1
Grade range: 06 thru 08
Parent coordinator: SHIRLEY LEE WONG

What's special:

Small progressive school that emphasizes a nurturing social environment for adolescents

The downside:

Only middle school of its kind in the district so demand outstrips supply

The InsideStats


Our review

Tompkins Square Middle School, a popular middle school in District 1, is a place that can hand-pick their students. Given its popularity and unzoned admissions process, Tompkins Square could select children with the highest grades and test scores, but the school chooses to have a student body that reflects a diversity of abilities and backgrounds. Administrators pride themselves on making sure that each student with his or her unique needs is offered an equal chance to succeed in a stimulating and safe social environment.

Building and location: Just blocks from the East Village neighborhood park it is named for, Tompkins Square Middle School shares a red-brick building with the elementary school students of PS 64 and the Earth School. The three schools appear to share facilities and tight space amicably. All three schools are involved in planning a rooftop garden, and are collectively raising funds for its creation. In a math class, we browsed letters that 6th graders had written to the Department of Education, proposing their own designs for the rooftop. The letters explained the purpose of each proposed element in the students' scaled blueprints, which were carefully detailed on graphing paper. One student explained: "I also drew a circle garden with yellow roses. I included it because it gives color to the area. I made it an area of 12.25 meters squared so that you can have a beautiful space around you and you won't feel cluttered."

School environment and culture: The school's adults are prepared for the growing pains and emotional challenges of middle-schoolers transitioning into teenagers, and are unusually proactive in preventing and resolving conflicts. Two faculty members double as deans or mediators, while a guidance suite provides group counseling for at-risk students. Each teacher meets weekly with a small advisory group, following a program prescribed by the Institute for Labor & the Community that explores issues such as family, sexual identity, media stereotypes, and Internet safety. The underlying goal is to foster a strong sense of community within the small but diverse group of students.

Dean Eric Forman (who is also the school's math coach) says it's important to help students understand how their actions impact others through school-wide and individual conversations. "I think the kids know that if you come to me with a problem, we're all going to talk about this together at some point," he says. "It's not just about consequences and rewards. It's not what we [as teachers] expect of you it's what is expected of you in the community."

As a way to begin the dialogue with each set of new students, one of the first things 6th graders do is write letters to 8th graders, asking questions and advice about the school. Principal Sonhando Estwick says 8th graders in turn respond to the letters personally by visiting 6th grade classes to answer questions.

Teaching and curriculum: Tompkins Square began in 2001 as a middle school that continues the kind of progressive education available to children attending alternative elementary schools such as its neighbor, the Earth School. Today it is sought after by families in most elementary schools in the district for its reputation of providing a well-rounded and student-centered education.

Lessons are often interdisciplinary and sometimes spring from students' interests. English and Social Studies are combined into a daily double-period Humanities class. In a 7th grade Humanities class, students were shown photographs depicting unfavorable human rights conditions such as child labor and were asked to reflect on problems in New York City that they would wish to expose. Seventh graders also give a private poetry slam performance for parents and classmates at the iconic Nuyorican Poets Café. The school recently added a dance program.

In the renovated science lab, groups of 8th graders were conducting experiments of their choosing. One group was investigating how varying levels of ash from volcanic emissions affect how heat is transmitted, another created simple electrical circuits. One student was measuring the volume of a piece of limestone that was placed in boiling vinegar at various time intervals.

In the 6th grade, students stay together in one hallway. They do not change rooms for classes and they have only two teachers for the major subjects: one teaches Humanities and the other teaches math and science.

Family participation: The PTA at Tompkins Square is active in organizing fundraisers as well as events that help parents get to know the staff at the school.

After school: Homework help and some recreational activities are offered until 6 p.m.

Special education: Tompkins Square has one self-contained class, a well as a CTT class on every grade. Some District 75 students with disabilities take classes with Tompkins Square students..

English Language Learners: The school has one full-time English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher. Roughly five percent of students qualify for extra support learning English.

Admissions: Applicants are asked to participate in an interview process where they are observed working in groups on an activity in a classroom setting. Administrators emphasize the importance of a strong attendance record and teacher recommendations.

After graduation: Graduates go on to Millennium, Bard, Beacon, and other small Manhattan high schools, as well as the specialized high schools. (Catherine Man, May 2009)

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