M.S. 224 Manhattan East School for Arts & Academics
Strong arts and academics attract bright children from across the city
Out of the way location
Manhattan East is a tiny middle school on the southeastern edge of East Harlem. It occupies the entire fifth floor of a 1920s era building (with no elevator). Many students travel an hour to get there from Harlem, Brooklyn or the Bronx, yet with three bands, visual arts, dance and three Regent's courses, this warm and unique school is worth the trip.
The staff is so sincere and friendly you soon forget how out of breath you are from the climb. The tone is light and filled with banter and often the sound of music. Office staff and teachers check in on children frequently, and take action if a child looks grumpy or sad, by pulling them aside to chat. "Teachers know you really well," said a student.
There are no uniforms. "We are an arts school," said principal Luis Genao, a long-time educator and graduate of Wesleyan University, who grew up in the South Bronx. "Kids express themselves here."
The school was founded as part of the progressive, small schools movement in the 1980s, along with Central Park East and River East. Its location on the border of low-income East Harlem and the wealthy Upper East Side, is intentionaldesigned to draw children from different neighborhoods. It is "a desegregated school by design," Genao said.
Teachers have flexibility in how they teach. Eighth grade English teacher William Meehan weaves social theories into lessons, having his students examine Marxism, utopia and dystopia through their readings of "Lord of the Flies," "The Hunger Games" and "The Giver." Children listen to the soundtrack from the musicalHamiltonin American history.
Children take up to six arts and sports classes per week. Sixth and 7th-graders study a wind, brass or percussion instrument. Starting in 7th grade, they may join the school's concert, rock or jazz bands. On the day of our visit, students brought up new and refurbished instruments donated by National Public Radio. They may dance or participate in drama.
All students take algebra, earth science and U.S. History Regents courses, but not all take the Regents exams. Parents rave about the academic rigor, but some students complain the lessons are too fast-paced.
One 8th grader said teachers move "on to the next topic, but if you missed things it is hard to catch up." She added that friends and teachers are always willing to help.
By the beginning of 8th grade, visual arts students develop portfolios for admission to competitive arts high schools such as Frank Sinatra and LaGuardia. Electives include basketball, and tennis on Randall's Island in the East River, accessible by a footbridge.
The school shares a building with the Renaissance Charter High School for Innovation and Success Academy Harlem 3. It is a ten-minute walk from the 96th Street station on the Q line, and ten minutes from the 6 train on Lexington Avenue. A parent said an evening meeting can be a three-hour time commitment, if you factor in travel.
Manhattan East staggers entrance times with the other two schools in the building and there is little contact between them. Students said getting to school on time is a challenge. "The stairs are a hustle!" said one. The upside is the fun bonding time with friends on the subway or bus rides home, said the mother of an 8th grader.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Students with special needs are placed in general education classes as well as in self-contained classes. Children are integrated with the others for gym, art and some music classes.
ADMISSIONS: Applications are accepted from students citywide. Parents and children tour in the fall, and prospective students who submit an application are invited back to sit in on classes for a whole day. During their full-day visit, children take a math and writing test and are interviewed by a faculty member. (Lydie Raschka, January 2017)