Young Women's Leadership School of the Bronx (TYWLS)
Bronx NY 10453
Teachers encourage girls to enter fields like technology and engineering
Limited arts and sports, some concerns about neighborhood
The Young Women's Leadership School of the Bronx is designed to give girls the self-confidence and skills they need to explore fields, such as computer programming and engineering, traditionally dominated by men. The school accepts girls with a range of abilities--including many with weak academic skills--and pushes them to succeed.
"It builds a sense of sisterhood," said a girl who gave us our tour. "Our teachers make us feel we are capable of so much."
High school students have unusual opportunities to spend the summer on campuses such as Smith College or New York University. One girl even won the chance to travel to Ireland for 3 weeks. Adult volunteers offer girls the chance to shadow them at jobs in science, technology, engineering and math. The non-profit organization Girls, Inc., organizes activities such as a field day in Central Park and a chance to row boats on the Bronx River during school vacations. Girls take classes in software engineering.
Opened with a 6th grade in 2012, TYWLS Bronx, as it is known, is part of the Young Women's Leadership network of schools. It will add a grade each year until it serves grades 6-12.
Housed on the top floors of IS 117, a clean but drab 1930s era building, Young Women's Leadership has a newly renovated gym and science lab. Class size is small--about 20 in the middle school and 25 in the high school. Some girls wear T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Girl Power." Others sport white shirts, gray pleated skirts or pants, and navy sweaters. There's a pleasant, relaxed vibe during class changes.
The style of instruction is fairly traditional. There's an emphasis on correct grammar and spelling. Writing exercises focus on a 5-paragraph structure. Girls learn to speak clearly and with proper diction. Many start 6th grade with reading and math skills that are below grade level--a function, teachers say, of poor instruction at too many elementary schools in the Bronx. Indeed, we saw a few 6th graders reading books from the Junie B. Jones series more typically read by much younger children. But, with small classes and double periods of "literacy" and math, many girls make huge gains. By 8th grade, some are ready to take high school level Regents exams in algebra, Living Environment, U.S. history and Spanish.
A full-time college counselor, part of the College Bound Initiative, works with girls as early as 10th grade to set their sights high. Nearly all are the first in their families to consider college and few are familiar with the application process.
Two experienced middle school educators, LeMarie Laureano and Devon Eisenberg, who both taught at Mott Hall V, work together as co-directors. Laureano, who grew up in the Bronx and attended all-girls Roman Catholic schools, is particularly focused on helping girls in single-parent households succeed.
The school has a sense of community, thanks to its small size, with between 80 and 90 girls in each grade. However, like most small schools, it has limited course offerings. There is a creative and resourceful music teacher, and girls may take art classes after school, but there are few electives and very limited sports.
Some girls responding to the annual school survey said they don't feel safe in the area outside the school. Laureano and Eisenberg said they stand outside at dismissal to ensure children get on buses and the subway safely. In addition, they help younger girls find older girls to travel with them and "organize girls by zip code" to travel together.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school offers team teaching classes with two teachers, one of whom is certified in special education. In addition, girls who need extra help may work in a small group with a teacher.
ADMISSIONS: Open to girls in the Bronx. Parents and students are strongly encouraged to attend an open house in the fall. Applicants' grades are reviewed, but good attendance is more important than good grades in admissions. Most girls begin in 6th grade; there are about 20 seats in 9th grade. Girls come from as far away as Co-Op City and Throgs Neck, 1 hours away on the bus. (Clara Hemphill, February 2017)