Harbor Science and Arts Charter School
Nurturing atmosphere and solid academics
No Regents-level classes for middle school students
Harbor Science and Arts, which serves elementary and middle school students, is one of the oldest charter schools in New York City. It's tiny and doesn't offer many extras, but children are known by name and seem to thrive in classes taught in a mix of styles. The school enjoys better-than-average test scores and stable leadership.
Children lean into their supportive teachers, joke with them and eagerly raise their hands to talk. With only one class per grade, numbers are large (over 30), and space is tight, but kids are orderly and classes are often divided in half for instruction. There are two teachers in each room; one is an assistant who has education credits or is in school studying to be a teacher. Several of these assistants have become lead teachers.
Principal Joanne Hunt is a well-respected, upbeat leader. She also teaches 8th-grade humanities, a happy accident that occurred when the school lost a key teacher several years ago. The fact that she also teaches engenders a "different kind of respect," from teachers, she said. [Assistant principal Mark Johnson became principal in 2016.]
Students participate in old-fashioned practices like standing to recite the times tables from memory. Memorization is not the only approach to learning new material, however: Children infuse art into timelines, posters and computer-generated brochures. We saw meaningful conversations about books and history in several classes. In a 5th-grade class, the teacher ran a lively back-and-forth debate as kids used phrases such as, "Evan made a stronger argument," or, "She used a generalization," to which the teacher replied, "How does that affect her argument?"
A couple of middle school teachers are former high school teachers and as a result they have their eye on what it takes to prepare kids for the next step, although there are no Regents-level classes yet. "Kids need writing and paragraphing skills," said a teacher from the well-respected Bedford Academy. The 8th-grade science teacher provides hands-on experiences for students and takes them on monthly field trips.
In 2013 the school split with its founding organization, Boys & Girls Harbor, which provides after-school in East Harlem. Since then, the school has been located in a cozy, worn building that housed the now-defunct Highway Christian Academy. As a result of the split, the school lost the expansive Harbor after-school program, but has been able to secure services from the Beacon program for middle school. Middle school lasts from 8 am to 3:10 pm; after-school runs until 6 pm. The lower school runs from 8:25 am to 3 pm with extended day until 4 pm.
As for special classes, the art teacher has been with the school for more than a dozen years and runs a popular bird watching club. Middle school students have gym five times a week and the younger ones visit the gym two to three times per week. Sports include baseball, volleyball, basketball and ultimate Frisbee.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Children with special needs are incorporated into general education classrooms and assisted by floating special education teachers. There is a guidance counselor and a part-time speech teacher. A few general education teachers are certified to teach special education.
ADMISSIONS: Lottery with preference to District 4. More than 800 students applied in 2014 with one-quarter from District 4. When children leave (typically three or four per year), the empty spots are filled. (Lydie Raschka, April 2015)
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Manhattan NY 10029