Urban Assembly New York Harbor School
Engaging hands-on programs both on and under water
Ferries only run every hour, few electives and activities that are not marine-focused
It's easy to forget you're in New York City at the Urban Assembly Harbor School on Governors Island, where kids trade subways and city streets for scuba dives and boat trips. Students may specialize aquaculture, underwater engineering, boat building, boat operation, or biology researchand receive certificates in Career and Technical Education (CTE) that may help them get jobs after high school. One student we spoke to wanted to be a science journalist, while another was doing an internship with a fiberglass company.
The main building houses academic classes, administration and some CTE labs. A smaller building by the water is home to other CTE programs, as well as offices for school's partner organizations, the New York Harbor Foundation and the Billion Oyster Project.
The enthusiasm at Harbor is infectious. Students gush about their research projects.Teachers gobble lunch standing up between meetings and class preparation. In this rather informal atmosphere, everyone is called by his or her first name.
Some of Harbor's strengths are also its weaknesses. The incredible location comes with an awkward commute, and students who miss the 8 am ferry must wait a full hour for the next one. The last boat home is at 6 pm, so Parents Association meetings are held at a school in Manhattan. Another downside: with such an extensive range of marine-related classes and activities, there's little money or time for other extracurriculars or electives. The school offers either music or art each year but not both. Only one year of Spanish is offered, and no other foreign language.
Freshmen take an introductory course that integrates marine policy, environmental stewardship and fieldwork, before choosing their CTE specialty in 10th grade. Students take Regent's exams, and academic classes follow a standard sequence.
Harbor had a revolving door of leaders after founding principal Nate Dudley left the school in 2012 to take up a job with the Urban Assembly network. In July 2015, Jeffrey Chetirko took the reins. Chetirko was principal at the Urban Assembly Institute for New Technologies in Harlem, but he jumped at the opportunity to move closer to his home on Staten Island. For his part, Chetirko says he's there to stay: "This will be my last principal position, because I never want to go anywhere else."
During the leadership upheaval, many staff members left, and discipline became a problem. Chetirko, who previously led a school classified as "persistently dangerous," made discipline a priority. He brought in a new dean and started to enforce rules, such as limiting how far students could go on the island. On our visit, students were calm and seemed happy to be there. A parent we met at the high school fair said she was optimistic about the school's future, and felt things were calming down after a few years of instability.
While the marine-focused activities are the school's centerpiece, core academic classes seemed less inspiring. Chetirko hopes to bring the excitement of the CTE programs into other classrooms. He also recognizes that the school has always been good at supporting students who need extra help, but needs to find more ways to challenge top students.
Special education: About half of all classes are team-taught.
Admissions: The school is unscreened, and admission is determined by lottery. Priority is given to students who attend an information session or open house. (Ella Colley, April 2016)
About the students
About the school
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Programs and Admissions
Students choose from one of the following programs: Aquaculture, Marine Biology Research, or Ocean Engineering. Students may receive corresponding certifications for each program, such as Geographic Information System certification or US Safe Boaters License.
Students choose from one of the following programs: Marine Systems Technology, Vessel Operations, or Professional Scuba Diving. Students may receive corresponding certifications for each program, such as Open Water Diver or US Power Boating certification.
French, Latin, Spanish
Advanced Placement (AP) courses
AP English Literature and Composition
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