Lower East Side Preparatory High School
Manhattan NY 10002
Unified, caring administration; strong college acceptance record
Principal Martha Polin has a clear vision for the students at Lower East Side Preparatory High School: Do the best you can, take advantage of the opportunities youve been given, and stabilize your home life. Since 2002, her strong and consistent leadership has helped the school maintain a reputation as one of the best transfer programs in the city.
Designed to reengage students 17-21 years old who have dropped out of high school or fallen behind in credits, transfer schools offer a welcome alternative for struggling students and new immigrants. Some kids come straight from the airport, jokes Polin, whose program has gained particular fame in the Chinese-American community. Nearly 85 percent of students are English language learners, most new immigrants from China who travel from as far away as Jamaica and Flushing each day to take advantage of the schools strong Chinese literature classes and much-lauded ESL program. Other students hail from places as diverse as Yemen, Dakar, Mali and, of course, New York City.
Despite the mingling of cultures, the school stands out among its peers as a highly unified community that works hard to provide students with a rigorous academic program and an authentic high school experience. Tardiness and truancy are not tolerated, and attendance is steady at 88-90 percent, above the citywide average for high schools and well above the average for transfer schools. The school also sponsors an annual senior prom, an overnight class trip to Camp Mason in the Poconos and numerous sports teams and clubs including boys and girls basketball, table tennis and an award-winning robotics club.
Academics is where the school shines. Our goal is college, says Polin who proudly notes that two of her current teachers are former students. By graduation, 75 percent have passed eight Regent exams, an impressive feat for a population that endures its fair share of hardship. Our kids have been through a lot, says Assistant Principal Rene Anaya, who notes that many students come from homes plagued by substance abuse while others support themselves entirely while completing school.
At first glance, the sturdy brick building that the school shares with Marta Valle High School is unassuming, and the sparse halls are remarkably quiet during class time. On the day of our visit, students worked attentively, analyzing bite marks in a forensics class and writing eulogies for fictional characters in college writing. In a particularly lively English literature class, students collaborated on essays analyzing several African-American poems about slavery and then excitedly moved all their chairs to the front as groups presented their work to the class. Teacher Rian Keating stood by one students side as he read aloud, helping him with the pronunciation of more challenging English words.
At 36 students to a class, the feel is certainly cramped, but teachers insist that consistency across the school and clear leadership makes the class sizes manageable. A makeshift workout room with stationary bicycles and Nautilus machines was almost impossible to walk through, while the newly renovated science lab was spacious and sparkling. Technology is strong with SMARTBoards in every class, and 20-25 iPads 36 laptops available for on-campus loan from the library. Students who successfully complete the required course, Digital Literacy, receive their own laptop computer along with free or low-cost wifi at home.
Special education: The school provides a SETTS resource room teacher, four guidance counselors, one social worker from New York University and one Sexual Assault Peer Advisor. The school will contract out to provide occupational therapy and physical therapy as needed, but some IEPs cannot be met and students must be mainstreamed. ESL is part of the curriculum for most students; but once they reach ESL 5, students are integrated with native English speakers. By ESL 8, most students have passed the English Regent.
College: Sixty to seventy percent of students go on to college, says Polin. The school has a part-time college counselor from Grand Street Settlement whose hands on approach has helped graduates gain entry to NYU, Syracuse, Skidmore, PACE and Georgetown. Most are accepted with full scholarships.
Admissions: Students must be at least 17 years old. American students need at least 10 high school credits and must have passed two Regents. Polin checks attendance history, immunization records and proof of address. Foreign students must provide a transcript and complete a small math exam on campus. All entering students must interview with a guidance counselor. Interested students should call the school for an appointment. (Aimee Sabo, February 2013)