Ella Baker School
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A joyful, informal school open to children from across the city
Test scores could be higher
Founded on the model of Central Park East in East Harlem, Ella Baker is a happy, informal place where children call grown-ups by their first names and there's plenty of time to build with blocks, dance, or explore the neighborhood on class trips. Two grades of kids are taught together (PK-K), (12), (34), and (56) so students have the same teacher for two years. Children are encouraged to explore their own interests and work at their own pace.
Although the school is located in District 2, it is open to children citywide. Tours are offered from October through February. It is one of the few schools in the neighborhood that offers pre-kindergarten classes.
Both the student body and the faculty are ethnically diverse, and there are an unusual number of men. The staff, led by Principal Laura Garcia, is stable and experienced. We heard no raised voices on our tour, and kids seemed reassured by clear classroom routines.
As other public schools have increasingly focused on preparing children for standardized tests, Ella Baker has maintained its commitment to learning through play and discovery. The school has no textbooks, only fun-to-read picture books and novels, science discovery books, and historical fiction. There are weekly trips to museums, parks and ice-skating rinks.
The school is part of the Julia Richman Educational Complex, a large building that houses several alternative high schools. Ella Baker shares the complex's two gyms, pool, auditoriums, ballet studio, library and Mount Sinai health facility.
The homework load is light and the tiny middle school does not offer Regents-level math or sciencea plus or minus depending on your point of view. The school won high marks on the Department of Education's Quality Review, with a rating of "well developed" in every category.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Students with special needs are fully integrated into all classes.
ADMISSIONS: There are tours beginning in October for the elementary school. The school encourages a tour prior to applying to see if it's a good fit. There are no tours for middle school because so few spots open up. The school is part of the DOE kindergarten application process but still hands out its own application when parents tour, primarily for 1st grade and up. Priority goes to parents who travel to the area for work or school. Children from all five boroughs may attend. (Clara Hemphill, 2012 visit; updated with DOE data, August 2016; admissions update January 2018)Read more