Renaissance Charter School
Queens NY 11372
Small, close-knit, pre-k-12 school community
No outside space, long waitlist
Imagine a large, nearly windowless cube filled with big and little kids playing games together, colorful student murals, and blue jean-clad students on a first-name basis with their teachers. This is Renaissance Charter, a small, unique, super-popular pre-K12 school that prides itself on personalized, relevant, project-based learning for students of all abilities.
Renaissance has a long history of integrating children with special needs in regular classes. Principal Stacey Gaulthier is particularly sensitive to learning differences: Her own son, who has dyslexia, graduated from Renaissance and went on to graduate from law school. Renaissance shares the building with a small District 75 school for children with autism, who have been integrated into the general education classrooms, some going on to colleges such as Pace University.
Teachers stay and build their careers here, and one helped design the interior of the building, which is a former a department store. There are interior windows so you can peer into classrooms, colorful couches, and centrally located tables on each floor, where teens like to gather to eat the excellent breakfast omelets, made by Chef Mo, the school's head cook.
Squarely in the progressive camp, the school works to ensure children take class trips, do hands-on projects, participate in an array of arts, and debate the issues of the day. A highlight is the school's weeklong celebration of learning called "Rensizzle" (named for Dr. Joseph Renzulli, the director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented), which exemplifies the school's project-based teaching style. Some or all the traditional classes are cancelled (depending on the grade), as students explore a topic such as robotics, journalism or animal care, with trips to places like Howe Caverns, Huffington Post, the Bronx Zoo, the Tenement Museum or the Brooklyn Bridge.
Class trips and projects allow students to learn and to show their understanding in a variety of ways. For instance, students who have trouble reading a science textbook may study geology through a trip to the Sterling Hill Mining Museum. Global humanities classes use history lessons to create plays about Apollo and Aphrodite or Hindu legends. Children in grades 4-6 take a five-day trip to Lake George where they learn about environmental science and reenact scenes from the Underground Railroad.
As they move through the grades, students take part in dance, fine arts, drama, and vocal and instrumental music. In grades 7 and 9, students rotate different art forms before selecting one arts' major to explore in depth. Anyone in grade 8 and up can audition for the school play.
High school students must participate in a leadership, volunteer or internship program each semester. We saw 9th grade students leading games in a 2nd grade class and a girls leadership group called Sadie Nash. "I was shy at first," said a 9th grader transfer student who found good friends in her leadership group. "Here we have space to talk about our issues as women." The Global Kids group picks social justice issues to explore such as poverty or health.
The school has a nice selection of advanced placement and honors classes ranging from human geography to Spanish literature. Starting in their junior year, students may take college classes at Queens College and LaGuardia Community College.
The school has no outdoor space, but it does have an indoor playground, and pre-kindergartners visit a playground down the block.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school accommodates children with a wide range of disabilities, including autism, dyslexia, visual impairment, and emotional and physical handicaps. They participate in all elements of student life, from student government to the National Honors Society. Many of the school's teachers are dually certified in special education and another subject. We saw adults working one-on-one in the classroom and in small groups in separate rooms.
COLLEGE ADMISSIONS: There is a well-designed college advisory course. Nearly all students are accepted into colleges, including CUNY and SUNY colleges and some very selective schools like Wellesley and Barnard.
ADMISSIONS: Renaissance accepts one incoming pre-kindergarten class of 18 students. Each year, about half-a-dozen spots open in kindergarten and there is one class of new 5th graders. There is one class per grade in PK-4 and two per grade in 5-12. Priority is given first to siblings of enrolled students and then to residents of District 30. All available seats are awarded by lottery throughout all the grades as they come available. Applications for these grades are automatically wait listed and will be considered if openings occur; however, the waitlist is generally over 2,500 students long. (Lydie Raschka, March 2016)