Renaissance School of the Arts
Manhattan NY 10035
Arts enrichment for all students; free set of school supplies for each student.
Low overall academic achievement.
Opened in 2008, Renaissance School of the Arts is a small middle school that delivers on its name offering students arts enrichment in all grades. Teachers and staff put a lot of effort into supporting the students, many of whom have special needs and struggle with personal circumstances outside of school.
Founding principal Tammy Pate-Spears believes in the transformative power of arts education. A graduate of LaGuardia High School and a former professional actress and singer, Pate-Spears toured Europe for several years with a musical theater company based in Germany. "Being exposed to the arts early on changed my life," said Spears, who left theater to become an English teacher. [In 2014 Pate-Spears handed over the leadership to Brian Bradley, who was formerly an assistant principal at Manhattan Center for Science and Math. The school moved to a different building which it shares with PS 155.]
In 6th grade, students rotate through classes in visual arts, dance, vocal instruction and instrumental music. Students in 7th and 8th grade choose one area to major in. There's an annual school musical and a chorus. The Lincoln Center Institute sponsors professional performances at the school; children learn to play the keyboard through a program with Music and the Brain. Teachers also do a nice job of integrating arts into academic lessons. When we visited, the hallways were lined with dioramas depicting Native American homes.
Many students struggle with academics. Teachers push their students to write a lot as well as think and work creatively. We saw lots of examples of student writing in classrooms and on bulletin boards. Students are taught Cornell Notes, a structured note-taking method. Teachers check binders and journals to make sure children are jotting down enough during class. In classrooms nothing is left to chance: tasks, standards, instructions and codes of conduct are displayed in detail on posters, bulletin boards, post-it notes and even on small whiteboards hanging outside the entrance to every room, where teachers write the agenda for the day. At the start of the school year, each student is given, free of charge, a full set of school supplies.
In classrooms, kids were calm and mostly engaged. Some were tired because of medication, according to a teacher. "It's tough for some kids, medication makes it hard for them to pay attention," he said. Teachers find ways to keep children on task. Students earn "spirit dollars" for achievement and good behavior that they redeem for rewards and special privileges. Every day before lunch, all students attend Target Ten: ten minutes of small group instruction that gives struggling learners extra help with skills and stronger students some enrichment.
Despite the staff's effort and care, the school struggles to make gains in achievement. Test scores remain stubbornly low.
Renaissance Arts occupies the fourth floor of a 1920's era building in East Harlem that was the former home of JHS 99. The school shares the building with the Academy for Environmental Science Secondary High School, Renaissance Charter High School for Innovation, and Manhattan East School for Arts and Academics. All schools share use of the auditorium, cafeteria, library and renovated outdoor track and yard. Renaissance Arts shares the fifth floor gymnasium with Manhattan East. Each school has its own lunch and recess times.
One downside to the school's facilities is the piercing change-of-class bell that's in desperate need of recalibration. Pate-Spears said she's working to have it fixed. [The bell has been fixed, the principal reports, in February 2012!]
Students must wear the school polo shirt, color-coded by grade. Spanish is the only foreign language taught.
Special education: A significant number of students have special needs. There are self-contained classes of 12 children and classes that follow the ICT (Integrated Collaborative Teaching) model.
Afterschool: The Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center runs activities such as dance, step and academic help every afternoon until 6 p.m. at the school. The Beacon Program sponsors afterschool activities that are open to students from all schools in the building as well as to community members. Achieve Now is a program that offers academic support for students who are over-age and under-credited for their grade.
Admissions: Priority to students in District 4. (Laura Zingmond, November, 2011.)