New Voices School of Academic & Creative Arts
Strong arts, dedicated staff and welcoming environment
Small, cramped facilities with no gym
Harmonies from the musical Grease greet visitors walking the halls New Voices School of Academic and Creative Arts. Up a flight of stairs, a student's artwork depicting a teen contemplating her body image in a mirror is part of a makeshift gallery. A ten-minute uphill walk through the residential Sunset Park neighborhood, New Voices is a simple route from the Prospect Avenue stop on the R train.
The school demographics have changed along with the neighborhood in recent years, and it now serves more middle class children than it once did. As a result, it lost its federal Title 1 funding, federal funds for high poverty schools. Nonetheless, it has maintained a racially diverse student body and, despite budget cuts, the school has maintained its dance partnerships. As part of "Dance off to College," graduate students from New York University's dance education program work with children; a visiting artist from the Paul Taylor Dance Company at Lincoln Center work with children and invites them to performances.
Sixth graders are introduced to chorus, visual arts, theater, instrumental music, graphic arts, and dance, then specialize in one studio for the 7th and 8th grade year. The yearly musical theater production is the highlight of the year. From calling production cues to applying makeup to the actors' faces, each child has some part to play.
The strong arts program complements academic instruction. For example, in addition to writing research papers, 6th-grade students created models of ancient Egyptian artifacts such as a pharaoh's bust after a field trip to the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
Principal Frank Giordano and his two assistant principals, Angela Lopez and Laurie Cianciotta, have teachers introduce basic concepts, then progressively allow students more freedom to control the direction of learning. For example, humanities instructors teach the basic tenants of the Fourth Amendment, then task students with leading discussions on privacy and mass surveillance. Graphic design teacher Jay Jay says he allows students to struggle through Adobe Illustrator assignments before intervening with detailed instructions.
The science program has grown the most in recent years, according to Giordano. Students begin 6th grade dissecting earthworms, then move to more complex animals such as rats. Older students study the genetic composition of two generations of fruit flies. There is now a Regents science course, and some take the algebra Regents exam in the 8th grade. No foreign language is offered in 6th or 7th grade; 8th grade students take Latin.
Giordano, who has been principal since 2004, has an easy way with the kids. He greets them by name and exchanges jokes with them. Unlike many administrators, he stays connected to the classroom: he teaches a 7th grade life science course each year.
New Voices shares the century-old building with PS 295. Narrow hallways swell with students during class changes and random sprouts of exposed insulation lace radiators. There is no gym, and kids have physical education in a corner of the cafeteria.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school offers team-teaching in every class two Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) classes per grade level of the three total classes per grade. Students are seamlessly integrated to the classroom. As a parent of two children with developmental disabilities, Giordano is sensitive to children with special needs. He says he wants to create a school in which low test scores do not preclude a promising student from having access to the arts. His methods have been met with success; New Voices was ranked as "Excellent" in 2015-16 school quality reports for helping students with special needs improve on their state English and Math Tests.
AFTER SCHOOL: Students participate in after-school baseball, soccer, and running club. Other students join MS 88's girls and boys basketball teams.
HIGH SCHOOL ADMISSIONS:Many New Voices graduates attend arts and technical arts high schools. The largest number go to Edward R. Murrow, including itstechnical theater program.
ADMISSIONS: District 15. Admissions are determined by a Saturday audition and classroom observation with a teacher in the student's preferred specialization. (Seaira Christian-Daniels, March 2017)