New Design High School
Strong design program; small class size.
Spanish is only foreign language; limited onsite after school activities.
The design program at the school, which opened in 2003, is well structured. In their freshman year, students take a visual arts course with the theme of identity; in 10th grade, they explore various design fields through the theme of community. The 11th grade program is an interdisciplinary study with the theme of perspectives, and in their senior year, students learn to design products for communal use, taking a look at the future in the process.
But even though most students come to the school for the design program, Director of School Culture and Programs Sarah Baltazar emphasizes that New Design is "first and foremost, a college preparatory" school, with about two hours of homework required every night. About three-quarters of the school's first class are expected to graduate on time in 2007, and most of those students will attend college; a few are headed to design schools, according to Baltazar.
The themes of the yearly arts courses find their way into academic courses, an integration of subjects made possible because the young and dedicated faculty works together. Teachers, all of whom arrive with extensive training in full-time master's programs or as undergraduate education majors, plan and teach in teams, and all of them, no matter how experienced, have a "coach"--another teacher who supports their instruction.
Their planning comes through in the classroom, where we saw some excellent lessons. In a 10th grade English class, students were working hard to revise stories by making sentences clearer, and when one particularly gifted writer volunteered to read his story, they were attentive. In a 12th grade government class, the teacher had worked with a drama instructor to coordinate dynamic mock Senate hearings on the topic of violence in video games.
But we also saw a couple of classes where good planning seemed obscured by disorder. In a 9th grade English class assigned to write about symbols in the ancient epic of Gilgamesh, students were restless and loud, lining up at the door and poking their heads into the hall several minutes before the end of the period.
Unfortunately, the weakest classes we saw were part of the design program. Two 9th grade design classes were almost out of control, with many students moving freely around the room, talking in small groups, and ignoring their work, all without much of a response from their teacher. A few students were working hard, although some of them did not seem to understand the goal of the project-- to make a personal coat of arms using symbols.
Administrators assured us that 9th grade classes are the most unruly, and that students calm down and get more serious about their work as they mature and see the benefits of the design program, which include hands-on internships. The upper-level classes we saw worked much better.
When students travel from one class to another, the school's overcrowded halls become chaotic. Still, physical confrontations are rare and the school is working hard to address the issues underlying the disorder. Since opening in 2003, it has refined the social services it offers, creating a counseling system that Baltazar calls "much more cohesive" than what it began with. A "wellness center," staffed by two fulltime social workers and multiple social work interns, addresses both discipline problems and mental health issues. "Advisories," small group discussion sessions between students and a faculty member, are carrying out a program called "Design for Life," which works on building healthy relationships and meets eight times a week.
The school offers only a few elective courses and no Advanced Placement classes because administrators place a high priority on keeping classes "heterogeneous"--mixed with students of different abilities. Advanced students can enroll in an enrichment program at Columbia University or do an internship in an area that interests them. Additionally, "kids have choice about what they do in class," Conti said, noting that they can pick the topics they research and, as they progress, the way they deliver information.
Outside partners are important in the design program. Students working with the gaming division at Parsons School for Design got to attend a conference for video game designers, and the designer of the Smart Car spoke to design classes about alternative energy. Artists from Working Playground, a not-for-profit group that runs cultural programs in needy schools, run an after school program, work with classroom teachers, and take small groups of students to museums and on other field trips.
New Design shares the building with four other small high schools: High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies, High School for History and Communication, Lower Manhattan Arts Academy, and Urban Assembly Academy of Government and Law.
Special education: In 9th and 10th grade, the school offers "collaborative team teaching" (CTT), in which two teachers, one a specialist in special education, led classes mixing students with special needs and general education students. It also offers SETSS (Special Education Teacher Support Services) for students in the upper grades.
After school: The Working Playground program, which is required for 9th graders, offers animation, theater, poetry, and music, among other activities. There are also intramural programs as well as sports offered through the Public Schools Athletic League. (Philissa Cramer, October 2006)
About the students
About the school
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Programs and Admissions
Advanced Placement (AP) courses
AP English Literature and Composition, AP U.S. History
Boys PSAL teams
Badminton, Baseball, Basketball, Bowling, Handball, Volleyball, Wrestling
Girls PSAL teams
Badminton, Basketball, Bowling, Softball, Table Tennis, Tennis, Volleyball
Manhattan NY 10002