Hamilton Grange Middle School
Manhattan NY 10031
Emphasis on writing and debate; strong teachers
Heavy reliance on iPads with sporadic WiFi
Opened in 2014 on the third floor of PS 192, The Hamilton Grange School has quickly become popular among Upper Manhattan families looking for progressive options. The heart of the curriculum is reading, writing and discussion; many students are still learning English in this largely Dominican neighborhood.
We found a thoughtful balance of structure and innovation in a young school still forging its identity. Children wear uniforms and the tone is studious and respectful. Teens sat quietly in loose rows at tables facing the teacher. Principal Benjamin Lev said teachers shy away from "group work for the sake of group work," but that students move in and out of groups for specific activities.
Hard work, not talent, is prized and mistakes are seen as a chance to learn. Students are encouraged to retake exams and rewrite essays. The principal is attuned to kids who struggle and doesn't easily resort to suspensions. Teens have a voice; they create goals and lead their own parent conferences twice a year.
The principal's office is filled with a stimulating array of books, but like a newly furnished home, the classrooms were sparse aside from blue and yellow "core values" posters and quotes. One room had flags from children's home countries, including Mexico and the Dominican Republic. All children study Spanish, art and music.
Lev taught math and science at MS 324 and was assistant principal at PS 192. Instead of scripted lessons, teachers tap into different viewpoints by having children research an issue and take a side in a debate, such as, "Should Britain return the Rosetta Stone to Egypt?" Sixth graders study Greek and Roman mythology and visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art to better grasp mythological references when they read the popular Percy Jackson novels by Rick Riordan.
Most in-school reading is done on iPad's using the LightSail program for 45 minutes three days a week. Unfortunately, iPads are dependent on the building's sporadic WiFi, but thee are "real" books too. Reading skills span a wide range, from couple of children who read at a 1st grade level to those who read at a 10th grade level, said the reading specialist who works with about 60 students.
Despite the language focus, some girls volunteered they like math best. There are two 8th grade Regents classes, algebra and living environment. In a math class, students practiced problems compiled from CMP3 (Connected Mathematics Project 3), Engage NY and Go Math programs.
Hamilton Grange is a draw for ambitious teachers. Lead teachers get slightly more pay and a lighter teaching load so they have time to mentor peers. Lev hired three teachers from Amistad, a nearby dual-language school, and a math lead teacher from the high-performing Anderson School on the Upper West Side.
The staff has training in a technique to help children learn how to manage emotions that can lead to destructive actions. Lev recalls middle school as a confusing time when he was often angry but never knew whyonly that his actions resulted in suspensions from sports or school. "Punishing them is not a good teacher," he said.
College undergrads visit and discuss the college experience through a particular lens, such as what it's like to be a new immigrant, on a sports scholarship or in an engineering class. Teacher's and Writer's Collaborative helps students get started on a college admissions essay.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Lev is a former special education teacher who believes in flexible scheduling for students with special needs. There are team-teaching classes and students who need more assistance may work with a special education teacher outside of the classroom in a smaller setting.
ADMISSIONS: Priority to District 6. Students who attend an open house receive priority. There has been a wait list in recent years. (Lydie Raschka, January 2017)