Beacon High School
Manhattan NY 10036
Engaging and rigorous instruction; lots of arts; new, modern building
Some kids may need more structure
Beacon is among the most sought-after high schools in the city. Its a vibrant place with challenging academics and a huge array of activities. In September 2015 the school relocated to a spacious, new home in Manhattans Hells Kitchen neighborhood. Designed with input from some teachers and staff, the new building features wide corridors, light-filled common areas such as the cafeteria and library, and plenty of rooms dedicated to music and art classes.
Beacon belongs to a consortium of New York State schools that are exempt from administering all but the English Regents exam. Instead students demonstrate mastery of coursework through challenging projects that involve oral and written presentations. Its not our classes that are so different from other schools, but rather how our kids are assessed, said longtime principal Ruth Lacey.
Teachers are given wide latitude to develop their coursework as well as teach classes that reflect their interests such the Science of Sound and The History of New York City. Lessons typically delve deeper into fewer topics than a standard Regents course and are often framed around a theme or question. In a chemistry class we observed, students donning safety goggles spent the bulk of the period creating and assessing chemical reactions to understand how the idea of calculating mole ratios differs from calculating for molecular mass.
Students read challenging literature and write a lot in all grades. In English and history classes its common to see students taking copious notes and flipping through books lined with post-it stickers. Teachers give open-ended assignments that require considerable research to complete. For instance, in global history the study of World War I culminates with students reading through as many as 15 books to identify differing explanations for the origins of that war and then preparing and presenting their own case for its origin. By the 11th grade students write research papers on weighty topics of their choosing such as President John Adamss support for the Alien and Sedition Act or the reasons for the switch in time that saved nine on the Supreme Court during the Roosevelt administration in the 1930s.
Beacon has a relaxed vibe and in many ways feels more like a small college than a high school. Bulletin boards display signs for clubs and social causes; teachers dont shy away from discussing sensitive or political topics in class. Students also have full run of the place when theyre not in a class. They socialize and do work in the hallways and are welcome to eat lunch in staff offices and open classrooms as well as the expansive cafeteria. If they really want to concentrate on work, they head to the library.
For many students the schools dynamics are liberating. However there are students, especially freshmen, who become overwhelmed. Some cant find their niche among Beacon's many students and activities. Others struggle with what one parent described as college-level expectations with assignments that require more maturity than most 14-year-olds have, such as "trace the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire using primary source materials and taking into account the importance of syncretism.
To help students with the transition to high school, rising freshmen attend a summer bridge program that focuses on community building and trips around the city. All students attend small advisory groups, each led by a teacher who advises the same group of students for all four years.
Students who do best here learn to speak up, ask questions, ask for help and find ways to manage the workload while taking advantage of all that Beacon has to offer. There are many clubs, lots of elective classes in the arts and technology, competitive sports teams, and a music program that features 16 bands and an impressive inventory of instruments and production equipment. During school breaks students have the opportunity to travel abroad.
Foreign languages taught include French, Italian and Spanish.
Students may go out for lunch once a week. Lacey says its easier for students to make friends and meet new people when everyone stays in the building and it also ensures that students who cant afford to buy lunch outside dont feel left out.
Nearly all graduates go on to four-year colleges. In addition to CUNY and SUNY, many graduates attend schools out of state; some go on to Ivy League and other highly competitive colleges.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Theres a small population of students with special needs. Beacon offers special education teacher support services (SETSS) and small group support classes that students attend in addition to their regular subject classes.
ADMISSIONS: Beacon is open to students citywide. Applicants are interviewed by Beacon students as well as staff and must present a portfolio of their work. A students 7th-grade standardized test scores, report card and records of attendance and punctuality are also considered. (Laura Zingmond, November 2015)
About the students
About the school
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Programs and Admissions
Beacon High School offers an inquiry-based college preparatory program.
French, Italian, Spanish
Advanced Placement (AP) courses
AP Biology, AP Calculus, AP Chemistry, AP Physics, AP Spanish
Boys PSAL teams
Baseball, Basketball, Bowling, Fencing, Soccer, Tennis, Wrestling
Girls PSAL teams
Basketball, Bowling, Cross Country, Fencing, Indoor Track, Outdoor Track, Soccer, Softball, Tennis, Volleyball