Strong, engaging instruction; inclusive environment; school day starts later than typical
Limited course offerings
Essex Street Academy is a friendly place where shy students come out of their shell, outgoing kids have plenty of opportunities to speak up, and all are encouraged to get involved. Small class sizes and engaging academics help students excel and prepare for college.
The small school with a progressive approach to education is part of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, a group of schools exempt from administering all but the English Regents exam. Eleventh- and 12th-graders must complete PBATs (performance based assessment tasks) on topics of their choosing, which involve extensive research and reading as well as writing and presenting papers in English, math, history, science, a foreign language and art.
Most classes are structured around themes. For instance, social studies offerings include classes such as "World Religions" and "Cold War and Constitutional Law"; microbiology and neuroscience are among the science options. Some courses have unconventional names, such as an earth science class that focuses on soil called “Sucio” (it means "dirty" in Spanish), and "Drosophilia Love," where students study genetics through experiments with fruit flies. Math classes follow a more traditional sequence, running from algebra through calculus. Computer science is also offered.
Teachers encourage students to be reflective and independent in their work; all classes emphasize writing, research and discussion. In 9th-grade English, students examine the hero’s journey by reading The Odyssey and watching the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and then writing their own hero’s myth. In a calculus class we observed, students sat in a circle discussing the equations and approaches they used to solve a challenging problem.
“I really value that this is not a test-based school. I can learn the way I learn best,” said one student.
The vibe is warm and inclusive. Students come from all over the city, some from highly competitive middle schools and others from neighborhood ones. All students we spoke with said they felt welcomed and challenged in their classes and that they valued having friends from backgrounds different from their own. Frank discussions about race and identity are woven into lessons, and students are encouraged to celebrate their heritage.
Essex Street does a good job of serving a broad range of students—lifting up struggling ones while challenging high achievers. Key to its success are class sizes of about 20, which help teachers get to know their students well and tailor assignments to their skills and interests.
“The strength of our school has always been relationships,” said principal Wallace Simpson, a former assistant principal and teacher at the school who first joined the staff in 2006. “And it’s hard to build relationships in classes of over 30.” Simpson is well-regarded by teachers, based on their responses to the NYC School Survey. Many, like Simpson, have worked at the school for years.
Typical of small schools, Essex Street’s course offerings are limited. Students may take college classes at CUNY schools or NYU. One senior who took an NYU class said all the writing she had to do at Essex Street prepared her to handle the college-level work.
Students may study Spanish or French. Students studying French have the opportunity to travel to France during spring break.
Studio art, music and theater are offered as classes during the day and as activities after school. Swim classes are offered in an on-site pool. All students perform community service.
Located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Essex Street is one of five small high schools housed in the Seward Park Educational Complex.
One big perk: The school day starts at 9:25 a.m., which is a boon to tired teens commuting from all over the city. Students may leave the building for lunch if they get to school on time.
There's a range of after-school clubs and activities, such as the feminism, LGBTQIA and video game clubs, mock trial, running, cheerleading, yearbook and yoga. Students may participate in campus-wide sports programs, which include a fledgling swim team.
The school invests a lot in its college office, funding counselors, on-site SAT courses and trips to visit college campuses. Graduates attend a range of schools, including CUNY and SUNY colleges as well as private and out-of-state schools; many earn full or substantial scholarships.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: There are integrated co-teaching (ICT) classes and Special Education Teacher Support Services (SETSS). Students we spoke with praise their teachers for being adept at tailoring assignments and supports to accommodate their disabilities.
ADMISSIONS: Citywide. The school does not consider grades or test scores in admissions. (Laura Zingmond, May 2018)
Safety & Vibe
Faculty & Staff
PhysicsNot offered in 2019-20
Advanced Foreign Language
AP/IB Arts, English, History or Social ScienceNot offered in 2019-20
AP/IB Math or ScienceNot offered in 2019-20
Programs & AdmissionsFrom the 2021 High School Directory
Essex Street Academy
We provide a supportive, performance-based, college-preparatory program for all students. Please visit our school website for tour and open house dates.
OfferingsFrom the 2021 High School Directory
Boys PSAL teams
Badminton, Baseball, Basketball, Bowling, Handball, Volleyball, Wrestling
Girls PSAL teams
Badminton, Basketball, Bowling, Softball, Swimming, Table Tennis, Tennis, Volleyball, Wrestling
Contact & Location
350 Grand Street
Manhattan NY 10002
Trains: , to Grand St; , , , to Delancey St-Essex St
Buses: B39, M103, M14A, M14D, M15, M15-SBS, M21, M22, M9
This school shares the Seward Park Educational Campus with four other schools