Wide variety of challenging and engaging courses
Five flights of stairs up in the cramped, rundown campus
NYC iSchool is a vibrant, challenging environment for self-guided and inquisitive learners. Creative scheduling and a dizzying array of course offerings allow students to pursue a variety of interests.
The school opened in the fall of 2008 and has since expanded to occupy the top two stories in Chelsea Career and Technical Education High School, a rather rundown building with no elevators constructed in 1848. iSchool makes good use of its cramped quarters. Administrative offices open onto a common area, which also serve as a theater venue, cafeteria and meeting space for students and staff. Another large room is used as a quiet commons for students. Some classes spill out into the hallways; we saw students painting sets and rehearsing for an upcoming performance of "Hamlet." A rooftop garden allows students to get their hands dirty both in class and after school. Although the building does not have a gym, it does have a weight room, and students can earn physical education credits there, in programs at a nearby recreation center, or through the sports teams they share with other schools on campus.
Every classroom is equipped with a full set of laptops, and teachers integrated them into nearly every lesson we observed, from students making history documentaries to lab groups submitting and comparing data on a shared Google spreadsheet.
iSchool stands out from other high schools of the same sizeabout 430 studentsin the amount of choice and flexibility it offers students. Every nine weeks, students register for classes online with a wide range of choice. Students who are passionate about science, for example, can enroll in the required living environment course and "The Physics of Superheroes" at the same time.
Every student at iSchool also takes a hands-on course called a module each quarter. Recent topics included "Call to Action: HIV," in which students work with a health clinic in East Harlem on a public awareness campaign; "iSchool to Wall Street," in which students invest $100,000, track their portfolios progress and then present their decisions to Wall Street investors; "Design-A-Zoo," in which students prototype a zoo habitat for an animal species and present it to zoologists; and "The Clean Water Crisis," in which students design low-cost water filters and manufacture them on the schools 3-D printers.
Principal Isora Bailey, formerly a principal of Greenwich Village Middle School (now the Lower Manhattan Community Middle School) and director of school improvement for a network of city schools, sees Regents exams as hurdles for her students to jump quickly, and most are offered online. Science and history classes aligned to Regents exams dont allow teachers to dive deeply into issues and projects that are captivating and relevant to students lives, Bailey said. During parts of the year, students in Regents courses meet only once per week with their teachers and are expected to spend at least three hours per week working through the online curriculum. Teachers for the online courses collect notes, give tests and provide extra help for those who need it. Languages are also taught online, allowing students to choose from Spanish (with teacher support twice a week) or Mandarin, French, German and Latin (entirely independent and online).
Advanced students have plenty of options at iSchool: environmental science, AB and BC calculus, language and composition, and literature. Any other AP course a student is interested in and qualified to take can be offered online. Several students participate in summer and after-school programs with universities like Johns Hopkins, and around 30 students are selected each year to work as teachers assistants, where they can help grade work, help struggling students and even sometimes teach lessons. All seniors must complete a final research project over the course of three quarters which culminates in a multimedia presentation such as a documentary, exhibit or an informative lecture to families and peers.
Most courses are open to all grades, so teachers offer a wide range of supports and grade students on a combination of skills mastery and work habits that vary depending on the students year. While this can mean more work for teachers, many told us they appreciate how quickly freshmen acclimate to a high level of rigor and behavior when seniors are their teammates. They believe allowing the students to work together on projects and push each other to learn prepares them for college and the modern workplace.
Advisory groups that meet three times per week help students make scheduling decisions and reflect on their academic progress. Every semester, each student leads a conference with his or her advisor and parents about growth, struggles and goals. Students also meet in small groups with the schools full-time college counselor starting as early as 9th grade, and in conferences with each family by the end of 11th grade. Graduates attend a range of public and private institutions such as Syracuse, Cornell, Trinity, Goucher, City College and Borough of Manhattan Community College.
Students are allowed off campus for lunch, but the neighborhood has few affordable food options.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school offers ICT (integrated co-teaching) classes in several core 9th- and 10th-grade courses. SETSS, occupational therapy and speech therapy are offered mostly through small group courses known as labs that any student feeling the need can elect to take.
ADMISSIONS: Students are "screened" for admission. Preference is given to students who complete an online activity on the school's website, who score Level 3 or 4 on standardized tests and who have grades of 85 or above in their core academic classes. (Nicole Mader, March 2015)
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Programs and Admissions
Chinese (Mandarin), French, German, Latin, Spanish
Advanced Placement (AP) courses
AP Calculus, AP English, AP Environmental Science, AP US History, AP World History
Boys PSAL teams
Baseball, Basketball, Bowling, Cross Country, Handball, Indoor Track
Girls PSAL teams
Basketball, Bowling, Softball
Manhattan NY 10013