J.H.S. 52 Inwood
A marching band, robotics, GE partnership
New immigrants enter 6th grade with very low skills
A "little gem" of a middle school on the northern tip of Manhattan, IS 52 offers a "well-rounded" program that includes solid academics, sports and even a marching band, according to Miriam Aristy-Farer, a member of the District 6 Community Education Council. Students choose between two themed academies: the School of Environmental and Applied Science (SEAS) or Visual and Performing Arts (VPA).
The school serves a large number of new immigrants, including many who have had very weak preparation in elementary school. Many teachers give up their breaks to help students outside of class time. An 8th-grader said she often seeks help during lunch: "It's better," she said. "It's kind of like tutoring if you don't understand."
Instead of using textbooks with scripted lessons, teachers have created their own units with thoughtful attention to the needs of their many Spanish-speaking students. In 6th grade, reading and writing are taught separately to boost skills; and in 7th grade, classes are split in half to provide more individualized attention. "We found this is the transitional year," said Principal Savador Fernandez. "They need more nurturing."
Social studies and English teachers plan lessons together so students can make thematic connections and become familiar with complex vocabulary. During the War Unit in social studies, for example, we saw students examine propaganda posters, and a staff member said students hear about propaganda again when they read George Orwell's Animal Farm in English class.
In the science program, children plant and maintain trees in the community, and do hands-on experiments every week in class. On our visit, we saw groups working together to figure out the density of Coke versus Diet Coke. Teachers are beginning to incorporate more math into their science classes after several years of work aligning lessons with Common Core state standards.Some teachers took a course at the Kennedy Science Center in Florida as part of a program sponsored by General Electric to strengthen science instruction.
Classes are orderly and some are more traditional, with the teacher up front giving instruction. Others, particularly the bilingual and science classes we saw, incorporate more group work and lots of visual and written aids on the walls and in plastic sleeves on the tables.
Although the school's test scores are low, parents and teachers report high levels of satisfaction, according to annual surveys. Parents participate in English classes, Zumba, knitting, yoga and academic-related workshops. As of our visit, Principal Salvador Fernandez was set to retire in 2014. His replacement Lupe Leon is a former IS 52 student, paraprofessional, teacher, dean and administrator. A Department of Education Quality Review called the school "well-developed," its highest ranking.
Once an overcrowded school with an enrollment of about 1,300 pupils, the school now serves fewer than 600. As rents in the neighborhood have skyrocketed in recent years, many families with children have moved to the Bronx; the neighborhood's new residents have fewer children.
The building is shared with the High School for Excellence and Innovation, which has a separate entrance. As of our visit,Inwood Early College for Health and Information Technologies was approved to occupy the fourth floor beginning in Fall 2014. IS 52 staff are braced for rescheduling lunch periods, scaling down to one science lab, and sharing the gym, bathrooms and auditorium with additional students.
Graduates attend Manhattan Village, Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics and the Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts, among others. A few students earn spots at highly competitive schools like Beacon or LaGuardia. Teachers use their free time to tutor promising candidates for the specialized high school exam.
Special education: IS 52 offers students every possible support, including push-in and pull-out help for English language learners and students with special needs, bilingual and team-taught classes on each grade level, and self-contained classes with only twelve students and two teachers.
Admissions:Neighborhood school. (Lydie Raschka, March 2014)
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Manhattan NY 10034