School for International Studies
Brooklyn NY 11201
New programs aim to boost academics
Too soon to know if students can handle the tougher curriculum
Major changes are underway at the School for International Studies. The school, surrounded by Cobble Hill's lovely brownstones, has adopted the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum for all students, increased academic and arts offerings, including Advanced Placement classes, and added a program in dance to the school's existing career and technical education offerings. International Studies obtained a grant to upgrade its library, and the outside space is set for improvement as well. A name change is in the works.
Principal Jillian Juman, who took over in 2012, hopes these and other changes will make the school, which has struggled to find applicants in the past, an attractive option for parents in District 15 and beyond.
Although the school still has a long way to go academically, Juman sees some progress. As she walks through the halls, she points out students who, she whispers, have made enormous strides at International Studies. The graduation rate has climbed from 47 in 2013 percent to 66 percent in 2014, almost the city average. Chancellor Carmen Faria has praised the school. An increasing number of neighborhood parents are considering International Studies for their children, Juman says, and more of its middle schools studentsabout 85 percentnow opt to stay at International Studies for high school.
The transition, however, has not been easy, Juman admits. Many long-time teachers and both assistant principals left the school after Juman took over, and by her third year, 70 percent of the teachers were new.Many students enter the school with low scores on state standardized tests, and middle school students at International Studies have done poorly on the exams.
International Studies has been caught up in one of the city's more high profile co-location controversies. Success Academy Cobble Hill Charter School, moved into the school amid some community opposition in 2012 and reportedly hopes to expand. Juman, though, wants space for her school to grow as well. For now, a truce appears in effect at the building, which also houses the small School for Global Studies and a District 75 program for students with disabilities.
The IB program is at the heart of efforts to improve academics at International Studies. Every student will be in the program although not all will necessarily graduate with the IB diploma. As part of the program, all 10th-graders must complete a personal projectit can be written, electronic, visual or oralthat they work on throughout the year, documenting their progress in a personal journal. A 12th-grade project also is required.
IB, with its emphasis on projects and students directing much of their own learning, has long been thought of as an elite program. Nevertheless, Juman said, "When we started rolling it out, it was clear it was good for everyone. There was no reason not to give it to everyone."
Middle school students take French and the school got federal funding to start a dual language French program beginning in 2015. Arts classes and other offerings, such as robotics, are embedded in regular classes or given after school. Those in high school can choose among dance, the culinary program, journalism and art and design. "We dont expect kids to come in and have a major," Juman says, "but to come in and have many different experiences so they are excited about learning."
Classes remain relatively small20 students currently in the middle grades and 23 in high school. Work is well-organized, and students usually get a written lesson plan about what the days tasks and goals might be. Teachers strive to engage the students, with interesting issues and questions. A 9th-grade science class on digestion, for example, included a 25-minute activity in which the children observed and predicted how their bodies digest a cracker. In an AP U.S. history class, students read and annotated a discussion of Shays Rebellion and considered George Washingtons and Thomas Jefferson's views of the uprising. Seniors read a passage from Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe as a prelude to a discussion about Western stereotypes of Africa.
Most students paid attention and stayed on task whether working individually, in groups or listening to the teacher, although some seemed to struggle with more demanding vocabulary and concepts.
International Studies has a college counselor, and students begin thinking about college choice in 9th grade. In their senior year, they take a college class, and Juman says all apply to at least six colleges. According to Department of Education figures, 45 percent of International Studies students graduate and then go on to a college or other post-secondary programbelow the citywide average of 51 percent.
Although students expressed concern on their learning environment survey about safety, the school seemed calm and orderly on our visit. Two 6th-graders in an art class said they loved the school. "They're very nice here, " a boy said. Another praised his math class.
Juman says International Studies may not be right for children who prefer a traditional setting and that the IB approach may clash with what some parents think school should be. But she thinks her school is a good choice for children "who dont want to do the same thing everyone else does," and "who wants to think for themselves."
Special education: The school has a number of team-teaching (ICT) classes and a self-contained class for middle school students.
Admission: International Studies accepts students for 6th and 9th grade. Although it is a screened school, a relatively small number of applicants means that most students who want to attend get in. (Gail Robinson, October 2014; updated dual language information January 2015)
About the students
About the school
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About the leadership
About the teachers
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Programs and Admissions
Within the International Baccalaureate framework, students will complete core and interdisciplinary classes as they prepare for AP courses in their 10th through 12th grades. Four years of math and science, and three years of a second language required. Completion of a research/dissertation project is required during the 10th grade. Completion of a Community Action Service project required during 11th & 12th grade years.
College, Career & Culinary is a four-year, rigorous sequence of courses designed to train future chefs, small business entrepreneurs, and managers. Entering freshmen are programmed for introductory kitchen skills and entrepreneurship. Wiithin the International Baccalaureate framework and our partnership with C-CAP, students complete internships working under local area restaurant chefs.
Chinese (Mandarin), French, Spanish
Advanced Placement (AP) courses
Boys PSAL teams
Girls PSAL teams
Flag Football, Volleyball