Humanities Preparatory Academy
Manhattan NY 10011
Small progressive school that welcomes both 9th graders and transfer students
Shared building needs some TLC; few AP courses
Humanities Prep, a small progressive school in the Bayard Rustin Educational Campus in Chelsea, provides an academically challenging and welcoming alternative to traditional high schools. Humanities Prep enrolls both 14-year-old 9th graders and older teens who may have struggled in a typical high school.
Instead of preparing for Regents exams, students focus on research and investigation and the rigors of writing. Students present PBATs (performance-based assessment tasks) in math, English, science and social studies. They choose a topic, write about it then present and defend their work in front of a panel of teachers and outside evaluators. English is the only required Regents exam.
Teachers and students call are on a first name basis. "Every teacher knows every student well," said Jeannie Ferrari, principal since 2013. Each teacher leads an advisory four days a week, following students throughout their time at the school. The atmosphere is casual and comfortable, students may wear hoodies and hats and there is a tone of respect throughout. Cliques are not tolerated
"No one is really excluded," a student told us. "We get a lot of emotional support."
The graduation rate is high and most graduates leave ready to do college-level work.
Teachers have a hand in designing classes. Advanced math students may take "proofs", a course which allows students to dig deeper in a problem and find the justification, not just doing "drill and kill as in a Regents curriculum," said Robert Michelin, assistant principal and a former math teacher. In "Food Chemistry," kids analyze the chemicals in foods and look at related health and social justice issues. Students look at literature through a teen's lens in a course called "Awkward, Angry or Invisible".
Art is integrated into many core subjects. Algebra students studying linear equations made drawings of stained glass windows, and then wrote equations to show how the drawing could be replicated.
The school adopted a restorative justice program. Students who break one of the school rules may be called before a "fairness committee" of teachers and their peers to work out a resolution. For example, after meeting with a girl who regularly missed the last class of the day, the committee got her help for the personal issues that were impeding her studies.
Computer Science was the only AP course offered in 2017 although the plan is to add more, Ferrari said. Students may take College Now courses at CUNY. Students who want more challenge may have harder texts and more writing assignments.
Electives include Spanish, Japanese, music, yoga and meditation. Sports teams are shared with the other five schools in the building. Sharing space in the building can be tough, especially when it comes to gym access, Ferrari said. Instead of the large gymnasium, students typically use small dance and yoga studios. They don't each lunch in the cafeteria; they either go out or bring food trays from the cafeteria to eat in classrooms or at convivial round tables in the corridor.
"We intentionally do not use the cafeteria space," said Ferrari. "Anonymity isn't conducive to building a stronger culture."
The huge building is in varying degrees of repair: The 6th floor, where all schools share space, is beautifully renovated; the floor occupied by Humanities Prep and James Baldwin, a small transfer school, though clean, has some peeling paint and could use an upgrade.
There is a fulltime college counselor on staff; the 2016 valedictorian went to Dartmouth; the salutatorian to Bryn Mawr. Students from Vassar have tutored at the school and that's another popular choice. Most graduates go to SUNYs and CUNYs.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: There are two special education teachers and Integrated Co-Teaching classrooms. "Through integration every single student is lifted up," said the principal. "Kids with IEPs learn differently; we try to tap into their strengths." In one ICT math class, the special education teacher took a group of students into a different room to work separately on an algebra project without the distraction of being in a larger classroom.
ADMISSIONS: Half the students are admitted in 9th grade and half come in later as transfer students from all over the city. Incoming 9th graders are screened for attendance and grades of 80 or above in core subjects. Most students who wish to transfer to the school are accepted, Ferrari said, unless they are so behind in credits that they wouldn't be able to graduate by the time they are 21. (Pamela Wheaton, January 2017)
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Programs and Admissions
Develop intellectual and civic leadership through self-discovery and challenge, with an emphasis on writing, public speaking, the arts, technology and community action.
Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish
Boys PSAL teams
Baseball, Basketball, Bowling, Soccer, Volleyball, Wrestling
Girls PSAL teams
Basketball, Bowling, Softball, Tennis, Volleyball