Ella Baker School
Manhattan NY 10065
A joyful, informal school open to children from across the city
Test scores could be higher
The High School for Math, Science and Engineering (HSMSE) offers challenging academics in a close-knit and friendly environment. The workload can be heavy, but the schools small size, accepting atmosphere and supportive teaching staffwhich includes PhDs and trained engineershelps kids manage the pressure and stay focused in school.
Students attend classes in Baskerville Hall, a 100-year-old building on the City College campus. The basement-level entrance, dominated by air vents and large pillars, make already small classrooms feel claustrophobic. However, the cramped space is offset by students access to campus facilities. They can get lunch in the college cafeteria, hangout on the grassy quad, play sports in the campus gymnasium and have access to multiple libraries.
Although the school specializes in math and science, English and history are strong as well. Students read selections from authors such as Kafka, Chekhov, Hemingway and Thoreau in English class, take Advanced Placement English their junior year and tackle topics such as existentialism and the American short story in 12th grade. There are sophisticated reading assignments not only in English, but in history (All Quiet on the Western Front), math (Freakonomics) and biology (The Double Helix) and more.
Theres no avoiding challenging math and science at HSMSE. Students take a three-year sequence of engineering coursesDesign and Drawing, Civil Engineering and Architecture, and Principles of Engineering, the latter taught as a double period course with physics. All freshmen take a double load of math. Some take algebra and geometry. Those who passed the algebra Regents in middle school take geometry and Foundation in Higher Mathematics, which delves more deeply into algebra.
Beginning junior year, students choose a concentration: engineering (taught by trained engineers), math or medical research. Some engineering students secure paid internships with City Colleges Grove School of Engineering.
Students in the math concentration compete on the math team and tackle college-level courses, such as statistics, by the 11th grade. By senior year, many take Advanced Placement Calculus BC and all take Advanced Topics, which covers graph, number and game theory as well Maple programming, computer language for mathematical computation.
Only a small group of students are admitted to the medical research program, which offers lab experience and research opportunities that far exceed anything offered in a typical high school science class. Run in partnership with Mount Sinai Hospital, students take courses such as bioethics, physiology and anatomy, and travel regularly to the medical center where they participate in laboratory and clinical internships.
Classes in core subjectsmath, science, English and historymeet for 90 minutes on alternate days, which allows teachers time to incorporate lots of discussion and projects into class time. It also staggers the homework load for students. The one exception is freshmen math, which meets daily for 90 minutes because it covers two courses. Elective classes and lunch scheduled for shorter periods of 45 minutes.
Spanish is offered, as is German, the language of engineers. Not all parents agree that German is the most practical choice, but Principal Crystal Bonds calls the language a leveler, in which kids can learn and grow together. Im even learning German, said Bonds.
The school is not a pressure cooker, but students still feel the weight of challenging academics and high expectations. Weekly advisories help teachers keep tabs on students. The Freshman Academy, a year-long course focusing on study skills in the fall and research methods in the spring, helps new students acclimate to high school. Before starting this, we had a bunch of freshmen who would fail a class. Now we have few, said Bonds, whose own daughter attended Bronx High School of Science.
The versatile teaching staff offers electives like astronomy, poetry and gastronomy (where students taste prosciutto, chocolate and cheese, and report on tasting trips on their foodconsidered.com blog.). They also find ways to connect their interests to lessons in other classes. For instance in a film class, students watch Schindlers List while studying World War II in history; in art, projects are tied to what students are reading in English.
Students are surveyed to determine what elective classes and programs are scheduledsomething that helps them feel invested and happy in school, said Bonds. Because we are so rigorous, we try to do a lot of fun and relaxing things too.
An onsite mental health and wellness clinic sponsored by New York Foundling Hospital provides free counseling and resources to all HSMSE students.
Graduates have been admitted to highly selective colleges such as Brown, Columbia, Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore, and Johns Hopkins. The University Michigan creates customized brochures to recruit HSMSE students to its engineering school.
Special education: Students receive supports such as testing accommodations, but there are no ICT or self-contained classes.
Admissions: Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). The school also runs STEM after school and weekend activities and SHSAT prep for District 5 middle school students. (Laura Zingmond, March 2015)