New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math High School (NEST+m)
Manhattan NY 10002
Fast-paced instruction for advanced students
Daunting admissions process
One of five citywide gifted programs, and the only one to serve children in grades k-12, New Explorations into Science, Technology & Math (NEST+m) has a demanding curriculum, hyper-involved parents, and children who love to come to school.
Mark Berkowitz, who became principal in July 2015, has quickly put his imprint on the school: He makes himself available to both parents and children and has taken steps to mend frayed relations that existed between the previous administration and staff. Berkowitz, who was the assistant principal at NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies, is keen to keep the schools high standards while recognizing that gifted children, like all children, need social and emotional support. We want to create a space where its safe to make a mistake, he said.
The elementary school has a progressive approach, with opportunities for children to work independently, to express themselves by speaking and writing, and to explore their own interests. Each class in kindergarten through 2nd grade has a play area with lots of blocks. Lessons are woven around interdisciplinary themes such as transportation (the different types, how fast or slow they move) and Central Park (how to read maps or build bridges, or what kind of wildlife lives there). The elementary school (also called the Lower School) has weekly "enrichment clusters" in which children from different classes work together on projects such as cooking, puppetry or street hockey. All elementary school students study Mandarin once a week. One nice, old-fashioned touch: Children have good hand-writing, the result of much practice.
NEST+m uses Singapore math in grades k-7, a curriculum that combines quick recall of arithmetic facts with a deep understanding of math concepts. For parents who are frustrated by the slow pace of math in many of the citys schools, Singapore math is one of NEST+m's great strengths.
Parents are invited to read with kindergartners at the start of the day. On one of our visits, mothers and fathers sat with groups of children on the corridor floors, reading aloud. The PTA pays for teaching assistants in the lower grades.
In the past, the middle school, grades 6-8, had a traditional approach, with an emphasis on mastering material from textbooks and preparing for multiple Regents exams.
Berkowitz is encouraging middle school teachers to develop a curriculum based on depth of understanding rather than acceleration for its own sake. NEST+m is moving toward more class discussions and fewer lectures by teachers; more oral presentations by students and fewer multiple-choice Regents exams. Seventh-graders, for example, have a robotics class in which they learn the basics of computer programming; the emphasis is on problem solving, rather than acceleration through a standard math curriculum.
Berkowitz moved his office from the ground floor main office (where it was protected by secretaries) to the third floor, where student may walk in without an appointment. He shares the office with his secretary, and students stop to chat informally or even share a joke. He seemed to know every child by name during our visit, just a few months after he came to the school.
Many 8th-graders leave NEST+m for larger or more established high schools; therefore, a significant number of seatsabout 75are available for new 9th-graders. In the high school, many classes have desks in rows, and there are more classes where the teacher does most of the talking than there are classes with lively discussions. Here, too, the curriculum and teaching approaches are evolving, and some classes have engaging projects. Students in a chemical engineering class, for example, made model cars powered by baking powder and vinegarexperimenting with different shapes to see which was the fastest. A bio-engineering class made models for prosthetic limbs.
NEST+m has a full-time college counselor. Students have been admitted to top colleges such as MIT, Wesleyan, Swarthmore, Yale, Columbia, Brown and Cooper Union, among others. A handful of kids go on to community colleges.
The school is housed in a sunny two-story building with wide halls and classrooms arranged around a central courtyard. Both elementary and middle school children play outside in the pleasant courtyard after lunch. Children in grades 3-8 have a dress code: polo shirts of various colors emblazoned with a NEST+m logo. In the winter months, many swap the polo shirt for purple sweatshirts with the school logo. Kids seem happy to be here, and attendance is very high. On one of our visitsa snowy day when most schools had poor attendancenearly all the NEST+m kids showed up.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Children with disabilities such as dyslexia and ADHD receive SETSS (special education teacher support services). Occupational, physical, and speech therapists assist children, and a psychologist is on hand two days a week. The high school has introduced ICT, or team-teaching, classes.
ADMISSIONS: Kindergartners must score in the 99th percentile on the citys gifted and talented exam to even be considered. (Siblings of current students may apply if they score in the 97th percentile.)
For kindergarten admissions, parents must submit a request for testing in November; children are tested in January. See the Department of Education's gifted and talented handbook for details on admission to grades k-2, including practice tests. Some children leave after 5th grade, opening up 35 to 50 seats for new 6th-graders. For admission to the 6th grade, students must take an entrance exam at the school in February. There are occasionally seats in the 7th grade.
For admission to the 9th grade, students must take the school's own entrance exam, similar in format to the SHSAT (Specialized High School Admissions Test).
Open houses for the middle and high school are held in the fall. Only parents whose children score in the 97th percentile may attend the elementary school open house held in the spring. Current elementary students are guaranteed admission into middle school; current middle school students are guaranteed admission into high school. Free yellow school bus service is provided for children in grades k-6 living in Manhattan, within a 5.5-mile drive of the school. Parents in other boroughs and other parts of Manhattan may pay for private bus service. (Clara Hemphill, November 2015)
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Programs and Admissions
Technology woven throughout the curriculum and school infrastructure; use of technological tools to collaborate, conduct research and explore mathematical and scientific phenomena.
Chinese (Mandarin), French, Italian, Latin, Spanish
Advanced Placement (AP) courses
AP Biology, AP Calculus, AP Chemistry, AP Chinese, AP Economics, AP English, AP European History, AP Physics, AP Psychology, AP Spanish, AP US History, AP World History
Boys PSAL teams
Basketball, Fencing, Indoor Track, Soccer
Girls PSAL teams
Basketball, Fencing, Soccer, Softball, Table Tennis, Volleyball