Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School
Bronx NY 10460
Nuturing Community, safe space and dedicated staff.
College readiness is very low.
Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School is a refreshing surprise, an oasis in a bleak section of the South Bronx. Most students live in the neighborhood, and a shocking 90 percent of entering 9th graders fail to meet standards on state reading and math tests. (An offshoot of the high school, the new Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School, attempts to address this problem.) The school helps these struggling students to feel comfortable in an educational setting, to catch up quickly, and to strive for goals including going to college. Some kids are savoring the experience of academic success for the first time; during our visit, one student proudly showed off her progress report to a counselor. Apparently, the efforts of this small school are paying off: Fannie Lou Hamer's four-year graduation rate is more than 15 percentage points higher than the city average.
This is a school where the faculty believes in the school's mission, and students understand what the expectations are. There is a good rapport among the teachers, who meet as a group daily. Many of them are young and upbeat, and because the school enjoys a low faculty turnover rate, the more experienced staff members move into leadership and administrative roles. Ninth graders are grouped with 10th graders in one of three small "houses," where teachers work closely together and get to know their students well. Eleventh and 12th graders, housed on a different floor, enjoy the same close bonds to their teachers, whom they have for two years. Students call teachers and administrators by their first names.
A member of the Coalition of Essential Schools, a national network of small progressive schools, Fannie Lou Hamer places greater emphasis on oral reports and student "portfolios" of written work than on standardized tests. For this reason, it is also part of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, a group of schools opposed to high stakes testing and whose students are exempt from having to take the majority of Regents exams. The curriculum is project-based, so students spend a lot of time working in groups, and the school operates on the idea that it's better for students to learn a few subjects in depth than to be exposed to a smattering of knowledge on many topics. Students in a small senior math class we saw were creating a blueprint of the oddly shaped school courtyard, as part of a project to propose ideas to renovate the space. A buzz came from another classroom where students, who had been introduced to playwriting by reading A Raisin in the Sun, were busy tweaking their own original scripts, which explored the theme of family. Students we spoke to said they preferred portfolios to tests, and when we asked them about their assignments, they described in detail what they were learning.
Some teachers use worksheets to help guide students through their work and writing; we saw one example in the form of lab reports on the walls of the science classroom. The day we visited, students in the science room were examining thin slices of fruit through the microscope, then illustrating the cells they had seen. In an English class, students were learning about Greek mythology and, in preparation for their year-end projects, answering worksheet questions about their readings.
While the building is safe, the neighborhood is not -- theft is common -- and the school takes no chances. Safety officers keep a close watch both within and outside the building. The dispiriting metal detectors seen in so many city high schools are, thankfully, absent here, but security cameras are everywhere. All the windows are protected by wire, and from the outside, this makes the building look caged.
The picture inside is quite another matter. The building is bright and clean, featuring a well-equipped library and technology lab. The school is wheelchair accessible, and, unlike most public schools, has an excellent ventilation and air conditioning system. The lunchroom has the feel of a college cafeteria, with round burgundy tables and student art murals on the walls.
The staff encourages students to think about college early on, but administrators say it is sometimes a challenge to get everyone to apply. One evening in the school, the college advisor hosted students and their parents at a session to fill out CUNY applications. Freshman and sophomores prepare for the PSATs and take college trips to the SUNY colleges at New Paltz, Oneonta, and Old Westbury. The administration estimates that 50 percent of graduates go on to four-year colleges, and an additional 30 percent go to two-year programs.
Students also take part in community service programs and internships.
Special education: The high school has both "self-contained"--special needs students only--and collaborative team teaching (CTT) classes. These classes mix students with special needs and general education students, and are headed by two teachers, one a specialist in special education. The school hopes to add more CTT classes. (Catherine Man, October 2005)
About the students
About the school
Is this school safe?
About the leadership
About the teachers
How many graduate?
Are students prepared for college?
How does this school serve English Language Learners?
How does this school serve students with disabilities?
Programs and Admissions
Advanced Placement (AP) courses
Boys PSAL teams
Baseball, Basketball, Volleyball, Wrestling
Girls PSAL teams
Basketball, Outdoor Track, Softball, Volleyball