Urban Assembly School for Criminal Justice
Supportive all-girls school offers lots of writing.
No science lab; limited chemistry and physics offered.
The Urban Assembly School for Criminal Justice, an ethnically and racially diverse school for girls, aims to empower its students and prepare them for a college liberal arts education. It serves an increasing number of students from conservative Muslim backgrounds--girls who, school administrators say, might not attend public school, were it not for the option of single-sex education.
Founding Co-principal Mariela Graham says girls gain self-confidence, develop a voice and are more likely to participate in class than some students at co-ed schools. And says founding Co-principal Nathalie Jufer, “The girls actively play at recess-–even at the high school level.”
The small size, along with the fact that many students remain at Urban Assembly for 7 years, gives the school a warm atmosphere. Faculty and other staff seems to know all the students, and extra efforts are made to support students from challenging backgrounds. Test scores and graduation rates exceed the city average.
The school’s strength is English and history. Girls in 9th grade feminist literature-–a required course said to be almost everyone’s favorite class-– discussed the pros and cons of women who are not Muslim wearing head coverings to express their support for Muslims. Girls identifying themselves as Christians and as Muslims plunged into the debate, keeping their voices down and their tempers cool.
Students read extensively and do one short writing assignment a marking period in each of academic subjects, including math. Teachers stress the presentation of evidence, pulling information from readings and encourage students to help and challenge each other respectfully. On our visit, classes were uniformly attentive and organized.
Girls work in pairs or small groups on in class assignments, such as determining what factors affects body fat. A 6th grade math class used blocks to figure out averages. When a girl described how her group had solved it, another student gently corrected her: “I think you confused the median and the mean,” she said.
An 11th grade environmental science class had an animated discussion about whether homes made of empty plastic bottles could alleviate housing shortages in the United States. A downside: The school is still waiting for a long-promised science lab and does not always offer either chemistry or physics. Although the school has “criminal justice” in its name, it no longer offers classes related to that theme.
Graham and her staff believe the emphasis on presenting arguments and writing skills will enable girls to get to college and succeed once they get there. An overnight college trip open to all students is offered every year, as well as a mother-daughter college trip. A full-time college counselor works with students starting in 9th grade and teaches a mandatory college writing class for seniors. Most students go to CUNY schools, although some have traveled outside the city to SUNY colleges or private schools.
Urban Assembly offers one Advanced Placement exam in each major subject area and lets some 8th graders take the algebra Regents exam. In most grades there one class with both students who are proficient in English and English language learners (ELL), the largest number of whom speak Bengali, Urdu or Arabic. The ELL classes have a second teacher for at least part of the day.
The school shares its building with J.H.S. 223 The Montauk, with Urban Assembly occupying one and a half floors. Each school has its own full gym but some facilities are shared and space is tight.
Special education: Urban Assembly offers ICT classes with two teachers and a mix of students with disabilities and general education students in middle school and for much of high school. There are no self-contained classes
Admissions: Middle school admission is open to girls from Brooklyn. Applicants are selected at random. More than 60 percent remain for high school. There are about 80 seats for incoming 9th graders and a few for 10th graders. Priority goes to Brooklyn students who attend an information session. (Gail Robinson, May 2017)
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Programs and Admissions
Advanced Placement (AP) courses
AP Calculus AB, AP English Literature and Composition, AP Environmental Science, AP U.S. History