P.S. 20 Anna Silver
Manhattan NY 10002
Lots of music, art and extras; promising new leadership
Will take time for new leaders' vision to take hold
At the Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science (AMS) creative, hands-on lessons and supportive staff help students stay engaged in math and science. Most students arrive in 6th grade and stay through high school. Though many start off with weak skills, by the end of 8th grade roughly half of the students pass the algebra Regents exam. The school has graduation and college-readiness rates that far exceed the citywide average and sends some graduates to highly selective colleges like Cornell and Browna particularly impressive accomplishment given that the school doesn't screen students for ability and most come from one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country.
The school is orderly and calm, but not rigid. Students wear uniforms and have to follow the rules, but the staff is more likely to admonish a student for getting to class late than for sporting an untucked shirt. Teachers also offer an unusual level of supportmaking home visits to 6th-graders before the school year begins, or sending an early-morning text message to a child who struggles with attendance. In class, teachers promote good work habits, like how to take notes and organize a binder. They also lead advisory groups that give students a forum to discuss their feelings and connect with others. Instead of the rushed parent-teacher meetings that take place in most schools, parents at AMS meet with their childs advisor three times a year for in-depth conferences.
Instruction emphasizes depth over breadth and teachers devote a lot of class time to lengthy projects, which encourage students to think creatively and develop what Principal David Krulwich describes as stick-to-it-ness. Krulwich joined AMS in 2005 first as a math coach, then as assistant principal under founding principal Ken Baum. He became principal in 2012. In higher level courses kids need to be challenged to figure things out, said Kulwich. How many kids are asked to spend 10 minutes, one hour or even three hours on a math problem?
For instance, 9th-graders in algebra 2 learn about functions by spending a week researching the income tax code and evaluating the merits of a progressive tax (a piecewise function) versus a flat tax. In living environment, they head to a nearby park to collect data on its biomass (total mass of living organisms). In the 6th and 7th grades students hone their fundamental math skills, spending a week charting their dream cross-country trip or planning a party, working out all measurements, calculations and costs involved. Students write essays explaining their choices and conclusions and wrap up their projects with oral presentations to their class.
In 6th and 7th grade, classes mix children of different abilities. Starting in 8th grade, struggling students are placed with the strongest teachers in smaller groups. In one class, we watched the teacher explain a graphing activity. A girl in the back row did the work perfectly, explaining it step-by-step to a visitor. Teachers are nice and young and inspiring, said 8th-grader Ishmael.
Not all students excel in math, but everyone sticks with it. If they are not ready for geometry or trigonometry, struggling students take applied math courses such as city planning or modeling. Stronger students, mainly those who pass the algebra Regents in 8th grade, stick with a traditional sequence that keeps them on path for calculus. Students can also take advanced placement biology. All high school seniors study statistics and take a non-Regents physics class that emphasizes design and hands-on learning, such as building a model airplane wing and then testing it in a wind tunnel for design flaws.
Sixth-grade students have an extended day as part of the Department of Educations Middle School Quality Initiative that provides extra support in literacy for high needs middle school students.
AMS shares its sleek, modern building with Validus Prep Academy and Bronx Mott Hall. The facilities are nice, but space is limited. To keep most class sizes small, the school had to convert a resource room to a regular classroom. High school students can participate in campus-wide sports teams. Theres a range of extra-curricular activities such as art, dance, chess, hip-hop, science research, robotics, math league, Mock Trial and student newspaper. Students make multiple overnight trips to Black Rock Forest to study science and to camp outdoors.
AMS founded and hosts Pi5NY, an annual, citywide math competition for middle school students.
College: Top students attend colleges like Cornell, Brown and NYU. A large block of graduates attends the entire range of SUNYs as well as two-and four-year CUNYs. Over half attend four-year colleges. The college office stays in touch with alumni to an unusual degree via email, Facebook and phone.
Special education: To manage an increase in students with special needs, AMS has added an extra guidance counselor, in addition to the licensed special education teacher on each grade. Children who need special help are often placed in smaller classes with strong teachers, rather than in larger team-taught classes.
Admissions: Priority to Bronx residents who demonstrate an interest in the school by attending a fair, information session or open house. (Lydie Raschka, October 2012, updated, Laura Zingmond, March 2014)