The Mott Hall School

Phone: (212) 281-5028
Website: Click here
Admissions: District 6, exam
Wheelchair accessible
Principal: Marva Picou
Neighborhood: Harlem
District: 6
Grade range: 06 thru 08
Parent coordinator: EVELYN CAMACHO MORAN

What's special:

High-achieving peer group and attentive teachers

The downside:

Small rooms and cafeteria

The InsideStats


Our review

When children's voices ring through the stairwells of The Mott Hall School, the sound conjures up days of old when the building was a convent and an orphanage. Parents like this cozy school for its small classes and individual attention, but it seems a shame that these bright stars of northern Manhattan — many eligible for the city's top high schools and private schools — are packed into such tiny, dingy rooms.

Like the worn, checked linoleum and mural covered walls, the atmosphere at Mott Hall is relaxed. Children are required to wear uniforms but teachers are not very strict about enforcing the rule. Class changes are cheerfully noisy with spurts of running and skipping. On our visit, when a girl spilled cookies on the stairs, the parent coordinator made a point of saying that children are held responsible for their actions, but it was the custodian who swept up the crumbs. On school surveys taken before the current principal arrived in 2013, more than half the teachers said order and discipline were not maintained.

Interim acting principal Marva Gumbs Picou is a graduate of Bank Street College and a former assistant principal at an alternative learning center in Harlem. Since her arrival in 2013, she has been working to spruce up the building, and she represents a fresh start after several years of friction between the former administration and the staff.

The school has a math, science and technology focus. About 95 percent of students take the science and math Regents exams. Students need 20 hours of lab time to be eligible to sit for the exam. "We believe in hands-on for science," said the 6th-grade science teacher who uses FOSS science kits with teacher supplements for lessons.

Teachers use the Investigations Math program and assign multi-step math challenges for kids to do in groups. The parent coordinator said that a score of 75 is considered "failing" at Mott Hall. "We hold the children to a higher standard," she said. However, those who struggle are quickly identified and they receive extra help after school. A math teacher who stays late to work with students said that those who fall behind are "closely monitored."

Students are required to read about 30 books a year with choices ranging from Hunger Games to Romeo and Juliet. Teachers assign about one to two hours of homework a night, a mix of worksheets, writing, inquiry and reading.

Although space is limited, staffers make the most of what they have. We saw children dance in a small space with cloister-style arches that also serves as a lunchroom, and work on perspective drawings in the cramped art room. A few children are accepted into LaGuardia High School in the disciplines of art and dance each year. The gym teacher is reportedly a trooper, teaching kids tennis in the fenced-in yard, as well as hip hop, tae kwon do, basketball and more.

At the end of the school day students are escorted to the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Education Complex at 129th and Amsterdam for sports and arts programs. There are two pick-up times so that children who need academic help can join the activities after they finish their work.

Sixth-graders are bused to Mott Hall mostly from Inwood and Washington Heights; 7th- and 8th-graders tend to travel to school by public transportation. Every 8th grader is registered to take the specialized high school test and about 30 percent are eligible for entry. Two to six students attend each of several of the city's top high schools. Time is set aside for test prep starting in January of the 7th grade year.

Special education: The school offers a self-contained class for children with special needs on every grade and one team-taught class with a mix of general and special education students.

Admissions: Over 500 students take the entrance test and 100 are admitted in the 6th grade on the basis of test scores, teacher recommendations, a writing sample, a portfolio and an interview. Applications, due in January, are available on the website. Parents should call to reserve a spot on one of the fall tours. (Lydie Raschka, based on DOE data and a parent tour, December 2013)

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