Marta Valle High School
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Small, supportive environment; engaging curriculum; culinary art and music programs
School is moving in right direction, but still has a ways to go
Marta Valle is a small high school making some big strides thanks to a revamped curriculum, a welcoming environment and lots of support for students. Class sizes are kept small, which helps teachers reach a range of students and get to know them all very well.
Since principal Steven Aragona’s arrival in 2015, the school has improved dramatically. The graduation rate has risen sharply and more classes and activities have been added, including several Advanced Placement classes and culinary arts, taught in a professionally equipped kitchen slated for renovation in 2018. “We started a new school without having to close the old one,” said Aragona.
The school still has a ways to go: Attendance is below average and nearly the entire teaching staff is new with all but a couple having been hired by Aragona. He says attendance reflects the fact that some students were assigned to the school but never showed up.
Nonetheless, the school has a pleasant atmosphere. On our visit, students were engaged in their classes and enthusiastic about participating in class-wide debates and discussions. Teachers create engaging lessons that weave in culturally relevant topics. For instance, the English department took students on a field trip to learn about activism and protest art at the Whitney Museum. Students read books that reflect their lived experiences such as “The Hate U Give”, “How the García Girls Lost Their Accents”, “Between the World and Me”, and “The Other Wes Moore.”
All students take at least one semester of music, but those who are interested may pursue options such as piano, vocals, and audio engineering. The school received a grant to expand its recording studio; students showcase their musical talent in performances held in the school’s nicely equipped auditorium.
One big challenge for the school is serving a broad range of students from struggling learners to high-achievers. To meet the needs of its students, class sizes are kept very low (some classes are a low as 15) and in most rooms we visited there was more than one instructor working with students. Lessons and assignments in grades 9 and 10 are more structured than in the higher grades. For instance a teacher may lay out and monitor all the steps a freshman must take to research a topic and craft an essay; by 11th and 12th grade students are expected to work more independently and draft lengthier pieces of writing.
All freshmen take a writing course in addition to their regular English class. Those needing extra support in math are scheduled for an additional skills class on top of the regular math course.
The school has adopted a “restorative justice” approach to discipline that minimizes suspensions and promotes positive behavior through conversation, reflection and corrective action. Students meet in small groups called “circles” to discuss issues and resolve challenges. For instance, students meet in “content circles” to address negative associations with a particular subject area such as not liking science or feeling intimidated by math.
Marta Valle shares a building on the Lower East Side with two other schools: Lower East Side Preparatory and School for Global Leaders. The three schools share the library, dance rooms, weight room, and auditorium. Marta Valle has its own fulltime librarian/media specialist who works with teachers and students to integrate technology and the library’s resources into class lessons.
Extracurricular options include dance, photography, video game club, student government, as well as several PSAL sports, including the recent additions of tennis and softball.
The school has partnerships with several organizations, such as the Grand Street Settlement, which runs after-school activities and provides interns to the music department. Aim High is an organization that provides mental health services, community trips, and mentorship to Marta Valle boys. Likewise, the Lower East Side Girls’ Club provides career-based internships, activities and trips to Marta Valle girls.
College guidance begins in the 9th grade, when counselors meet with students monthly to discuss grades and test scores that are required for various colleges as well as goals. Tenth graders continue to attend workshops and start to go on college trips. Eleventh and 12th-graders get intensive support through the college search and application process.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Students with special needs participate in ICT (Integrated Co-Teaching classes. The school also has an ACES (Academic, Career, and Essential Skills) program, which helps provide life skills training to students with severe disabilities. These students are taught academic subjects in self-contained classes but join the rest of the students for elective classes and activities such as music, physical education and creative writing.
ADMISSIONS: Priority to District 1 students. Students are admitted based on the educational optional formula, which is designed to enroll a mix of low-, average- and high-achieving students. (Isabel Corpus and Laura Zingmond, May 2018)
Programs & Admissions
From the 2020 High School Directory
- Course Grades: English, Math, Science, Social Studies
- Standardized Test Scores: English Language Arts, Math
Ninth grade courses include Living Environment, Integrated Algebra, Global History and Geography, English Language Arts, Italian, Visual, Performing Arts Courses
Advanced Placement (AP) courses
AP English Language and Composition, AP English Literature and Composition, AP United States History
Boys PSAL teams
Girls PSAL teams