Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS)

Grades Pre-K, K-2, 6-12
Staff Pick
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What’s Special

A K-12 school where children may explore their own interests

The Downside

Elementary school has no track record

Our Review

Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, better known as WHEELS, is built on the premise that children learn best when they have activities and trips that allow them to explore the world around them. Kindergartners work in a school garden and visit the Bronx Botanical Garden to learn how plants grow. High school students visit organic farms to learn about the food supply and travel to the Indian Point nuclear power plant to learn about energy.

Founded as a middle and high school in 2006, WHEELS added a pre-K and kindergarten classes in 2014 and will add a grade each year until it serves K-12.

The elementary school, which had pre-k through 1st grade when we attended an open house in 2015, is housed in portable classrooms across the street from the main building. During "choice time," small children may pick an activity such as playing with blocks, playing dress up, reading or writing. Children may also choose where to siton a chair if they find the rug scratchy, for example. Science and social studies lessons are woven into trips to local parks, the farmers market, and the Queens Hall of Science. Pre-kindergartners have a one-hour nap.

The elementary school, designed as Spanish-English dual language program, was a work in progress at the time of our visit. The middle and high school, on the other hand, have a proven track record. Even though most students enter reading below grade, about three-quarters graduate on time and most go on to college.

The middle and high school grades share a modern four-story building with IS 143 Eleanor Roosevelt. The building includes a health clinic and dental office, providing free services, but it lacks any significant outdoor space, so WHEELS has no recess period. Well-behaved WHEELS high school students are allowed to go off campus during lunch. The school offers a range of after-school sports, but students must often take subways or buses to athletic fields on Randalls Island or in the Bronx.

Like all Expeditionary Learning schools, WHEELS has a hands-on curriculum with an emphasis on building student character and forming a long-term advisory bond with a teacher. NYC Outward Bound Schools is a lead partner with the school and supports the expeditionary learning concept, by offering camping trips and rock-climbing courses as well as ongoing teacher training and an instructional guide.

Every year, seniors march three blocks to the post office so each could drop college applications in the mail. A police escort halts traffic, and the rest of the student body lines the route to loudly cheer the procession.

WHEEL offers a range of instrumental music courses (the school has three bands), plus a popular after-school drama club. Instead of parent-teacher conferences, WHEELS has regular "student-led conferences" in which students display a portfolio of their work to family members and an advisor, and set goals for future performance. Thomas Rochowicz became principal in 2015, replacing the founding principal, Brett Kimmel.

On our 2012 visit, students we spoke to praised their teachers' dedication, and most said the school felt like a small, supportive family where they feel encouraged to succeed. Yesica, a 17-year-old senior active in sports and the drama club, said she spends so much time at WHEELS that "my mom asks me all the time, 'How's your first home?' " Rules of good conduct were strictly enforced (students who disrupt class quickly earn detention, and repeat offenders are suspended), and even informational talks in the auditorium are structured to prevent chitchat (students must leave an open seat between one another). Yet no one seemed to chafe at the rigid structure, which kept classrooms and halls orderly.

Special education: WHEELS offers integrated co-teaching (ICT) classes in which students with special needs are taught with other students in classrooms that have two teachers, one of whom is certified to teach special ed. The school also has special services, known as SETTS.

Admissions: The school offers regular tours. District 6 priority. (Skip Card, October, 2012; updated with elementary school visit, Mahalia Watson, December 2015)

About the students

Enrollment
806
Pre-K seats
32
Asian
1.0%
Black
4.0%
Hispanic
91.9%
White
2.7%
Other
0.4%
Free or reduced priced lunch
100%
Students with disabilities
20%
English language learners
17%

About the school

Shared campus?
Yes
This school shares the building with JHS 143
Uniforms required?
Yes
Metal detectors?
No
How crowded? (Full is 100%)
63%
Citywide Average Key
This school is Better Near Worse than the citywide average

Attendance

Average daily attendance
89%
93% Citywide Average
How many students are chronically absent?
37%
15% Citywide Average

Is this school safe?

How many teachers say order and discipline are maintained at this school?
83%
76% Citywide Average
How many students think bullying happens most or all of the time at this school?
18%
21% Citywide Average
How many students say they feel safe in the hallways, bathrooms and locker rooms?
87%
88% Citywide Average
How many teachers say their students are safe outside around this school?
100%
81% Citywide Average
How many students say most students treat each other with respect?
62%
57% Citywide Average

About the leadership

Years of principal experience at this school
0.8
5.1 Citywide Average
How many teachers say the principal is an effective manager?
60%
81% Citywide Average
How many teachers say the principal has a clear vision for this school?
58%
84% Citywide Average
How many teachers trust the principal?
70%
82% Citywide Average

About the teachers

How many teachers have 3 or more years of experience teaching?
78%
64% Citywide Average
Teacher attendance
97%
98% Citywide Average
How many teachers say they would recommend this school to other families?
78%
84% Citywide Average
How many teachers think the staff collaborate to make this school run effectively?
70%
83% Citywide Average

Do parents like the school?

How many parents responded to the school survey?
39%
64% Citywide Average
How many parents say they are invited to visit classrooms?
70%
73% Citywide Average
How many parents say this school offers enough courses, activities and services to keep their children interested in school?
86%
85% Citywide Average
How many parents say their child's teacher helped their child adjust to Pre-K?
100%
100% Citywide Average
How many parents say this Pre-K program helped them consider which elementary schools would meet their childrens' needs?
88%
92% Citywide Average
How many Pre-K parents say their child's teacher gave helpful ideas for how to support their child's learning?
100%
100% Citywide Average
Citywide Average Key
This school is Better Near Worse than the citywide average

Test scores

How many students scored 3-4 on the state math exam?
25%
56% Citywide Average
How many students scored 3-4 on the state ELA exam?
32%
52% Citywide Average

Engaging curriculum?

How many students say this school offers enough programs, classes and activities to keep them interested?
76%
73% Citywide Average
How many students say they are challenged in most or all of their classes?
54%
51% Citywide Average
How many students say the programs, classes and activities here encourage them to develop talent outside academics?
80%
72% Citywide Average

Are students prepared for high school?

How many 8th graders earn high school credit?
0%
46% Citywide Average
How many graduates of this school pass all their classes in 9th grade?
88%
91% Citywide Average
What high schools do most graduates attend?
Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School
Citywide Average Key
This school is Better Near Worse than the citywide average

How many graduate?

How many students graduate in 4 years?
73%
84% Citywide Average
How many graduates earn Advanced Regents diplomas?
13%
36% Citywide Average
How many students drop out?
4%
3% Citywide Average

Are students prepared for college?

How many students graduate with test scores high enough to enroll at CUNY without remedial help?
41%
45% Citywide Average
How many students take a college-level course or earn a professional certificate?
49%
61% Citywide Average
How many graduate and enter college within 18 months?
72%
82% Citywide Average
Citywide Average Key
This school is Better Near Worse than the citywide average

How does this school serve English Language Learners?

This school offers Dual Language classes in Spanish.
How many English language learners score 3-4 on the State ELA exam?
15%
15% Citywide Average
How many former English language learners score 3-4 on the State ELA exam?
27%
5% Citywide Average
How many English language learners graduate in 4 years?
44%
50% Citywide Average

How does this school serve students with disabilities?

This school offers self-contained classes
This school offers team teaching (ICT)
Average math score for ICT students
1.93
2.3 Citywide Average
Average math score for self-contained students
1.9
2.2 Citywide Average
Average ELA score for ICT students
2.02
2.2 Citywide Average
Average ELA score for self-contained students
2.05
2.2 Citywide Average
How many students say that students with disabilities are included in all activities?
65%
63% Citywide Average
How many parents of students with disabilities say this school offers enough activities and services for their children's needs?
78%
83% Citywide Average
How many parents of students with disabilities say this school works to achive the goals of their students' IEPs?
78%
88% Citywide Average
How many parents of students with disabilities say they are satisfied with the IEP development process at this school?
89%
87% Citywide Average
How many special ed students graduate in 4 years?
44%
65% Citywide Average
For more information about our data sources, see About Our Data

Programs and Admissions

Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School
Admissions Method: Limited Unscreened
Program Description

Students participate in interdisciplinary learning across all subject areas.

Academics

Language Courses

Spanish

Advanced Placement (AP) courses

AP Calculus, AP English, AP Spanish, AP Statistics

Sports

Boys PSAL teams

Baseball, Basketball, Cross Country, Soccer

Girls PSAL teams

Cross Country, Flag Football, Indoor Track, Outdoor Track, Soccer

Read about admissions, academics, and more at this school on the NYCDOE’s School Finder
NYC Department of Education: School Finder

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