Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School
Manhattan NY 10039
A good balance of art and academics in a long day, small classes, morning meditation
Few bathrooms, no gymnasium
At Thurgood Marshall Academy, students wear crisp white shirts and red ties and raise their hands respectfully to speak in class. Kids visit museums and study dance, violin and jazz. They start each day with a few minutes of silent, calming mindfulness.
A grandmother of two chose it over TAG (Talented and Gifted) Young Scholars because she told us it was exceptionally nurturing of the "whole child," particularly "black and Latino kids."
The 15 or so staff members wear several hatsthe nurse sings opera to the kids, the secretary doubles as the step-team coach. Children are in school until 5:30 p.m., allowing them time for sports, drumming, dance and more, which helps balance the serious academics that start in kindergarten. Kids meditate, and track their emotions with "mood meters." Children visit lots of museums and study dance, violin, and jazz.
The school was opened in 2005 in collaboration with the Abyssinian Development Corporation, the housing and social service arm of Harlem's biggest church, Abyssinian Baptist Church.
Principal Dawn Brooks DeCosta won a Cahn Fellowship in 2015, a reflection of her strong leadership. An educator for more than 23 years, she has watched the rise of middle-class parents in Harlem, and she and her staff hope to learn from PS 125, where parents have demanded more progressive practices such as hands-on "centers" in kindergarten. She wants to ensure her teachers have the tools to reach faster learners, too: "We've had such a focus on the struggler," she said. "We also need to focus on the advanced."
A few downsides: The old building has only two bathrooms on the third floor with one stall in each. There is no gymnasium, but kids play in a small yard or in the cafeteria. Some children miss many days of school because of long commutes or for health reasons such as asthma.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Physical therapy takes place at another location but a special education tutor and a speech therapist are available on-site. There are also mental health services.
ADMISSIONS: There are up to 20 spots for kindergarten and 1st-graders depending on how many siblings are admitted. Applications for grades 1 to 5 may be picked up at the school. There are twice as many seats in 1st grade as in kindergarten, a boon to families set adrift from area charter schools, but very few spaces open in the upper grades.The application is not an evaluation of the child, DeCosta said. (Lydie Raschka, October 2015; updated August 2016)