Tompkins Square Middle School
Manhattan NY 10009
Rigorous academics in a nurturing and diverse learning environment
Narrow, cramped hallways
Tompkins Square Middle School is a nurturing place with a deep commitment to collaborative work and diversity. A popular choice for District 1 families, the school could easily screen for high achievers only, but instead strives for a culturally and academically diverse student population. The school does a good job of serving students with a wide range of skills, and teachers and staff pride themselves on providing a stimulating and welcoming environment where all students can thrive.
Named for nearby Tompkins Square Park, the school is housed in a red brick building that it shares with two elementary schools, PS 64 and the Earth School. Inside, the narrow hallways are cheerfully decorated with student work, but can get a bit cramped when filled with students changing classes. Many classrooms, however, are spacious and brimming with books that teachers thoughtfully arrange on shelves and in bins for students to access with ease.
The vibe throughout the school is calm and laid-back, and the staff has a good rapport with students. In classes, teachers incorporate a range of problems and tasks into lessons to ensure that all their students are challenged. Because we have invested so much into our inclusion model, we have kids in ICT [integrated co-teaching] getting into Stuyvesant, said Principal Sonhando Estwick. There are no honors classes or tracking in subjects. The one exception is algebra, which select 8th-graders take a few days each week on top of their regular required math course.
To ease their transition to middle school, 6th-grade students have two anchor teachers: one for math and science classes and the other for humanities, which is a double period covering both English and social studies. In the upper grades, students continue to have one teacher for humanities, but have separate teachers for math and science.
Teachers put a lot of effort into creating interesting and rigorous lessons. Students work mainly in groups, often on assignments that stretch over several days. In math, students in all grades spend a few days tackling a complex, schoolwide math problem, one of several assigned throughout the year. Sixth-graders feel great working on the same problem as 8th-graders, said Devan Aptekar, a school dean and member of the founding faculty. To shore up their math skills to meet new Common Core Standards, 8th-graders spend a month learning multiple ways to solve quadratic equations.
In a 7th-grade humanities class we visited, students were sharing their own, and critiquing their fellow classmates realistic fiction stories. A countertop along the side of that room was covered in bundles of challenging novels that students were currently reading in their book groups. Earlier in the year they studied the Constitution and participated in a mock trial held at a downtown courthouse as part of The Constitution Works program.
In science, students do a lot of research and writing, and often keep laptops handy to record their research. A few years ago one of our ELA teachers spent a year co-teaching a science class to help us develop the literacy component in science, said Estwick. Science teachers also set aside class time for students to work on their projects for the schoolwide science fair.
A flex period is built into the middle of each day, allowingstudents to take enrichment classes, participate in advisory groups and, when needed, get extra help in academics. Enrichment options may serve a practical purpose such as helping 8th-graders prepare art portfolios for high school interviews. Other courses may tap into students interests, such as book clubs or quirky-themed options like gross anatomy (dissections) or physics of superheroes (examines the physics behind comic book story lines). Teacher-led advisory groups give students a forum to tackle issues such as family, sexual identity, bullying, Internet safety and how to be organized. At the beginning of 8th grade, they focus on high school admissions. Sometimes teachers schedule single-sex advisory meetings to allow for frank discussions on topics not easily addressed in a coed group.
In addition to enrichment classes and advisories, students have art, gym, technology and Spanish.
The school offers a range of free sports, arts and academic enrichment activities after school.
Special education: Roughly half the classes follow the integrated co-teaching (ICT) model.
Admissions: The school is open to District 1 students. Applicants must participate in an interview where they are asked to work together in groups on a task such as solving a math problem. (Laura Zingmond, May 2014).