Harlem Children's Zone Promise Academy Charter School
Manhattan NY 10037
More than a school-an entire support system to get kids into college
Some students grumble that kids dont respect each other
Promise Academy Charter opened in 2004 as an outgrowth of Harlem Children's Zone, an organization dedicated to providing the children of central Harlem comprehensive academic, medical and social support from birth to college.
The school serves children in grades K-12 in a five-story building with 52 classrooms equipped with WiFi, three science labs, lockers, two libraries and two outdoor play areas.
The building, opened in 2013, is surrounded by the towers of St. Nicholas Houses, and residents of the public housing project get priority for admissions. According to parent comments on websites like Great Schools, school safety staff escort children to public transportation and patrol the neighborhood at night. [photo at right from DNAinfo taken at the ribbon cutting for the new building]
In addition to a longer school day and year, students have access to free after-school sports, tutoring and arts programs. There is an onsite health center with free medical, dental and mental-health services. Children receive healthy breakfasts and lunches.
Class size is small with at least two teachers in every room. The school day lasts until 4 pm and after-school programs for the elementary grades are offered until 6 pm, while middle and high school activities run until 7 pm. Most charter schools require students to wear uniforms, but Promise Academy requires teachers to adhere to a strict dress code, too.
According to the calendar on the school's website, there are literacy and other academic workshops for parents, as well as social events like the Parent Cafe Night and Grandparents Social. Students take trips to the American Museum of Natural History and the local farmer's market. Some trips are further afield, such as to Boston, to visit colleges.
Parents are enthusiastic and both students and teachers say expectations are high, according to the Learning Environment Survey. However, nearly one-third of the teachers responding to the survey complain of problems with order and discipline and say they don't get the help they need to address behavior problems.
The school declined our repeated requests to visit, but data shows that Promise Academy students perform better than at other area public schools and surveys and websites indicate the school enjoys stable leadership. Tonya White is the principal of the lower elementary (K-2), Achil Petit leads upper elementary (3-6), Shakira Brown Petit leads the middle school (7-8) and Marquitta Speller leads the high school (9-12).
Middle school math and English Language Arts test were at the citywide average in 2013, but science scores were well above average. The leader of the middle school, Brown Petit, was previously a science teacher at the school. In 2008 she was tapped to join an 8-week expedition to Antarctica sponsored by the National Science Foundation as an explorer-educator.
"When I was younger, I hated science," a Promise Academy student of Ms. Brown's was quoted in a New York Times article that year. "The teachers talked too much. After they talk a lot, you get bored. Ms. Brown gives us examples from real life."
Speller worked in Bedford-Stuyvesant before she became principal of the high school in 2010. She believes that the extra assistance children receive from adults makes a big difference for Promise Academy students, according to an article in the New York Times. There is a social worker, a guidance counselor and a college counselor in the high school. Top students may attend free college-level classes held onsite by Bard College professors.
There were 62 seniors in the first graduating class in 2014 and Speller predicted that all would go to college according, to an article in Ed. Magazine from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In college teens will continue to be supported by the College Success Office, just like all participants in Harlem Children's Zone.
The Harlem Children's Zone extends from 116th to 143rd Streets, between Madison Avenue and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. The organization has placed teaching assistants, known as peacemakers, in many of the elementary school classrooms in the area and poured money into refurbishing playgrounds and parks. The visionary behind the zone is Harvard-educated Geoffrey Canada, who was raised by his mother in the South Bronx. He has received many awards for his work.
Admissions: Most of the students come from the surrounding neighborhood and there is always a waiting list. Admission by lottery is held in April. Priority is given to residents of District 5. (Lydie Raschka, web reports and DOE data, December 2013)