Essex Street Academy
Manhattan NY 10002
Offbeat courses, relaxed environment, college advisory.
Limited course offerings
DECEMBER 2009 UPDATE: Housed in the former Seward Park High School, Essex Street Academy is one of the most successful of the 200 small schools created by Chancellor Joel Klein since 2003. The 2009 progress reports released by the Department of Education ranked Essex Street Academy higher than 98 percent of the city\'s high schools, largely because of its success in graduating students who enter high school reading below grade level. The school\'s progress report showed that 84 percent of students graduate on time.
Although Essex Street Academy does not screen students for academic achievement, it has begun to attract stronger students as its reputation has grown in recent years, Principal Alex Shub says. \"I believe our rigorous and engaging curriculum prepares students of all levels for success at college.\"
A 2009 report by the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School singled out Essex Street Academy as a place where students who might otherwise drop out finish high school and go on to college. Small classes, attentive teachers, and a laser focus on what each student needs make the difference between success and failure, the report said. It described a girl, Taisha Jimenez, who, by her own account, had a foul mouth and nasty behavior for most of her freshman year. \"But she said her teachers never gave up on her and were unfailingly respectful to her even as she was rude to them,\" the report said, adding that Taisha went on to college and successfully finished her first year.
Teachers say they find the work satisfying, even though they work longer hours than at a traditional school. Amy Basile, a math teacher, said she has classes of 20 at Essex Street Academy, compared to 34 at her previous school. \"We have fewer students and more autonomy in the classroom,\" she said. \"We all have ownership in this school.\"
The school has received a waiver from the state requirement that all students take five Regents exams, allowing it to have more leeway in its curriculum. Like a lot of small schools, the course offerings are limited. There are no Advanced Placement courses. However the school does offer art and music to 9th, 10th, and 11th graders and it has a drama program for 11th graders.
Shub said 95 percent of the school\'s first graduating class went on to college. Some graduates have been admitted to selective four-year liberal arts schools like Smith, Hampshire, Bates, and Bard. (Clara Hemphill December 2009)
2005 REVIEW: Formerly known as the High School for History and Communication, Essex Street Academy was founded in September 2004 as part of the small school initiative in the city. Each grade has fewer than 100 students, and class sizes are kept small. Students have daily \"advisory\" periods, group meetings to discuss school and personal issues with a faculty member. They also attend school-wide \"town hall\" meetings, where they are briefed on the latest events and participate in activities so that teachers and kids stay connected to each other. On our visit, students were surprisedand amusedto learn that one of their teachers had once sported a purple Mohawk, while another had danced with singer Irene Cara at the Academy Awards.
Essex Street Academy is a member of the Coalition for Essential Schools network, which advocates for small schools where students concentrate on learning a few subjects in detail. Principal Alex Shub, formerly a teacher at the Institute for Collaborative Education (ICE), studied under Theodore Sizer, the Brown University emeritus professor and education reformer who organized the coalition. Subscribing to the same philosophy as the group, the school centers its classes around themes so students can follow a common thread through their studies in a course. We visited one history class, \"Trauma in Society and How We Heal,\" where students began the period by discussing why countries go to war; they then moved on to group work exploring the specifics of World War II. In \"Truth or Fiction? Fantastic Realism in Fiction, \" English students worked in groups to create a fantasy vignette and mulled over possible obstacles a hero might face.
In a mandatory food chemistry class, kids were experimenting with sugar and water, trying to make rock candy. The science teacher told us that she gives her students mini-lessons on how to conduct an experiment, but stressed that the kids learn to find answers to their own questions. Students work their way up to performing self-designed experiments that they present to a panel of parents.
Students will be assessed for graduation with projects and presentations to exhibit their in-depth work and research. Shub hopes the school will gain a waiver from the New York state requirement that graduates must pass 5 Regents exams, which tests students on a wide range of content.
Teachers seemed to be happy that they get to design the curriculum. Although history is no longer featured in the school\'s name, (partly because the school\'s lead partner is no longer South Street Seaport), the subject will continue to be a spotlight of the program; educational consultants from Facing History, an international organization that promotes the study of history to equip students to combat modern-day problems, are working with teachers to strengthen the history component of the curriculum.
Essex Street Academy is one of five new small high schools sharing the Seward Park campus. Although there will be movement and change in the coming years as the schools grow to full capacity, they are bringing a fresh sense of diversity and integration into the building, a longtime neighborhood high school whose student population once was divided among ethnic groups.
The school gets students with a range of abilities and backgrounds. As in most unscreened schools, some kids come with challenging and troubling problems. Social workers from the school\'s lead community partner, Greenwich Village Youth Council, visit the school to work with students.
Admissions: Applicants should attend an information session and according to Shub, want to rank the school #1 on the high school application. (Catherine Man, October 2005)
About the students
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Programs and Admissions
French, German, Spanish
Advanced Placement (AP) courses
AP Calculus, AP Spanish
Boys PSAL teams
Badminton, Baseball, Basketball, Bowling, Handball, Volleyball, Wrestling
Girls PSAL teams
Badminton, Basketball, Bowling, Softball, Table Tennis, Tennis, Volleyball