Gaynor McCown Expeditionary Learning School
Staten Island NY 10314
New suburban-style campus, hands-on activities and field trips
Turbulent first two years, no advanced placement classes
Gaynor McCown Expeditionary Learning School offers the intimacy of a small high school with many of the activities and amenities its large suburban counterparts. Opened in 2008, the school shares a gleaming new campus with its sister middle school, Marsh Avenue School for Expeditionary Learning, another high school called CSI High School for International Studies, and a District 75 school for disabled students. Students have access to athletic fields, a large gymnasium, a library and a variety of afterschool activities and social programs.
McCown is part of a network of expeditionary learning schools affiliated with Outward Bound, a nonprofit organization that organizes hikes, camping trips and other activities outside the classroom to build teamwork and character. “It’s not just chalk and talk. The students have a lot of interaction with each other and they rely on each other,” says Principal Traci Frey, a Staten Island native who took over McCown after running Edward R. Murrow High School’s science department as assistant principal.
Frey became principal after a turbulent first two years in which the school lost both its founding principal and an inexperienced interim principal. Frey notes that the period was marred by low test scores, excessive suspensions and teacher turnover. She says she has hired some excellent teachers, including some from Murrow, and is working to turn the school’s reputation around. An early sign of success: 92 percent of ninth graders passed the Living Environment Regents in 2010.
On our visit, classrooms seemed orderly, and students seemed happy and engaged. Students of different races seemed to get along well: in the cafeteria, we saw white, black, Hispanic and Asian kids sit at the same tables—possibly a result of the teambuilding exercises which begin the school year. All ninth graders are assigned to a “crew” and a teacher who is their crew leader. Each crew goes on a weeklong camping trip. Crew members meet daily all four years of high school. (Outward Bound is supporting the trips until 2012; after that, their future is uncertain.)
Most lessons we saw centered around projects. A young science teacher, Devin Sprague, took his class into the fields behind the school to learn the difference between “biotic” (living) and “abiotic” (non-living) while mapping the schoolyard’s surprising web of life. “We learned that we are surrounded by biodiversity,” said Cazina, a ninth grader. “Science is really fun because the teacher is really fun,” added her classmate, Shanese.
There is an emphasis on teaching concepts rather than merely facts. Goals were displayed colorfully on the wall in an 11th grade Global History class: “I can describe how ideas can lead to conflict.” “I can explain why revolutions happen.” “I can explain how technological change affects social, economic and political systems.”
Like many small schools, McCown offers no Advanced Placements, but Frey says she hopes to offer them in the future.
Special education: About one-quarter of students special education services including SETTS and CTT. One of the school’s founders, Dorita James, is in charge of special education. From what we observed, she is a kind and patient teacher who is popular with students.
Admissions: There are no admissions requirements. Students who attend an information session get priority. (Kim Nauer, October 2010)
About the students
About the school
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Programs and Admissions
Advanced Placement (AP) courses
AP Biology, AP Calculus, AP English, AP Environmental Science, AP US History, AP World History
Boys PSAL teams
Baseball, Basketball, Cross Country, Fencing, Indoor Track, Soccer, Tennis, Wrestling
Girls PSAL teams
Basketball, Cross Country, Fencing, Flag Football, Outdoor Track, Soccer, Softball, Tennis, Volleyball, Wrestling