Hillcrest High School
Career-oriented institutes help build community
Overcrowding; many students start school below grade level
NOVEMBER 2014 UPDATE:David Morrison, assistant principal of English at the time of our last visit, became principal in February 2014 after Stephen Duch left to become an adjunct professor at St. John's University and head of College Now at York College.
2011 REVIEW:Hillcrest is a large, orderly neighborhood school with energetic teachers who get to know the students well and students who arent afraid to speak up in class. It is divided into nine smaller programs, including a Pre-Med Institute that has steered many students towards M.D. and R.N degrees.
Every morning, watched over by several police officers, thousands of students stream past delis and houses to climb the gentle hill on which the school sits. Inside, the atmosphere is calm and ordered as students pass through metal detectors. Wide hallways and large classrooms filled with light help lessen the effects of overcrowding, as do three staggered entrance times. The school is diverse, serving an influx of West Indian, Russian, Arab, South Asian, Dominican, Puerto Rican and African immigrants as well as long-established African American families. A large selection of teams, electives, clubs, and languages (Spanish, French, Benagli and Modern Arabic) offers something for everyone.
In 2006, with a grant from the Gates Foundation, Hillcrest made the transition from one large school into nine career-oriented programs overseen by one principal. Each small learning community, or SLC, as they are called, serve roughly 450 students and has its own set of teachers, its own director, guidance counselor and suite of classrooms. In addition to Pre-Med, the school offers Humanities, Business Tech, Teaching, Theatre, Health Careers, and Public Service and law. Students get instruction in core subjects of math, science, social studies and English and most of their elective classes from their own program's faculty. Sports, clubs, and the schools art and music programs are open to all Hillcrest students.
The small learning communities seem to be serving Hillcrest well. The schools graduation rate went up 20 percent, its Progress Report steadily improved, and suspensions declined in the five years after the SLCs were introduced. If anything, I think weve become closer as a staff, said Perdo Cubero, director of the program in Public Service and Law. The way guidance works in collaboration with the teachers, we really work as a team.
Two small programs serving at-risk students in smaller classes seem supportive, including the Senior Future Academy for seniors: Im in Senior Academy for cutting classes, said a boy wearing a suit and tie in preparation for a job interview after school. His classmate said she likes that she can make up credits online, even from home, using the iZone program. Newcomers Academy is an immersion program for those have been in the country less than one year. Its the most difficult group because everything is new, said a social worker. They really cling to us. In some classes, those from the same country work in small groups together so they can support each other.
Many rooms had desks facing front in jumbled-looking rows and teachers posed rapid-fire questions to keep kids interested. There is a pointed effort to draw out girls especially those from countries where education is not a priority for girls, like Pakistan and Afghanistan. We try to push them outside their comfort zone, said Principal Stephen Duch. There are almost twice as many girls as boys at Hillcrest. According to assistant principal John Michalos this is because Hillcrest offers programs that are more female-dominated, like teaching, health, theater and humanities.
One girl in a lilac headscarf did most of the talking as she stood with two boys in front of the class discussing First Amendment rights pertaining to religion. We want thinkers who can connect ideas, said David Morrison, the assistant principal of English. After reading a section of Dantes Inferno, about lust, teens discussed Lady Gagas Bad Romance. Kids were asked to create life quotes based on A Raisin in the Sun and came up with a variety of themes: Mama is always trying to support the family, said one.
Not all students will necessarily pursue the track theyre on, nor did all choose it in the first place. David, a senior, placed in Teaching as a 9th grader, wants to be an engineer. He has nevertheless found value in spending time in elementary classrooms. It has been quite an eye-opening experience for me, he said.
Many 9th graders arrive with low reading scores and we saw some poor spelling and grammar as students worked in small groups, though peers corrected each other when the teacher prompted them to be human spell checkers for each other. The engineering teacher designed a class in which kids build model airplanes and straw and paper structures and learn 3D animation. Some have never built anything in their lives, not even a kite, he said.
Hillcrest offers nine Advanced Placement courses. Students may also take college classes at York and Queensborough community colleges. College acceptances include Queens College, Hunter, Stony Brook University and Queensborough Community College.
Special education: Special needs students, including 70 with physical challenges, are taught with general education students and two teachers, one trained in special education. We observed a child in a wheelchair work alongside four peers as they discussed a novel. The school also offers SETSS (special education teacher support services).
Admissions: Priority to students who live in the zonedl. The pre-med and humanities programs have screened admissions, students must audition for the theater program and the remainder follow the education option formula, which accepts students of all levels. (Lydie Raschka, October 2011; updated 2014 with information about change in principal)
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Programs and Admissions
NYS CTE Certified Nursing Assistant program that includes supervised clinical rotations with training from registered nurses and a developing Sports Medicine program with courses such as Exercise Physiology, Human Anatomy and Nutrition. Students participate in the Health Professions Club and receive paid and unpaid internships in the health field and volunteer experience.
Through a partnership with CUNY, the PERC TAS program allows students to lead lessons and mentor struggling students in Living Environment and Algebra. Through our partnership with Junior Achievement, students participate in the HS Heroes program where they have the opportunity to teach for a day, twice each year. We offer a Teacher Assistant program through our foundations of education course and the opportunity to participate in job shadowing through American Express and ABC studios.
An Honors College Preparatory Program offering scholars four-year tracks in Media, Art, or Music. Media provides writing and publishing courses in Journalism, Model UN, Film, and Creative Writing with options for AP and CUNY College Now English. Art includes Painting, Drawing, Sculpture, Design, Photoshop, and Printmaking with options for AP Studio Art and AP Art History. Musicians perform and compose with multiple opportunities in Band, Chorus, Drum Line, and String Ensemble.
Courses offered leading toward medical careers; AP Biology, AP Environmental Science, AP Art History, AP Calculus, AP Spanish, AP French, AP Computer Science, AP English Composition, AP English Literature, Chemistry, Anatomy, Physics, STEM Research Academy at York College, STEM Science Research Internship opportunities, NASA-Global Warming and Climate Change, Science Research-Environmental Science, Medical Laboratory, Microbiology, and College Now Courses.
Interpretation of dramatic literature, acting, directing, playwriting, improvisation, scenic design, filmmaking, and career counseling in the arts. Students are actively supported as they progress through the rigorous curriculum of the New York City Blueprint for Theater and a CUNY College Now Communications course. Audition dates will be held Tuesday, December 5, 2017 through Friday, December 8, 2017 and January 23, 2018 through Friday, January 26, 2018.
CTE Law Academy courses include Forensics, Criminal Justice, Criminology, Constitutional Law and Legal Studies; preparation for public and community careers in legal, federal/state/local government agencies; College credit for selected courses; High School Law Institute at Columbia University and NYU; Participation in New York State Mock Trials, Moot Court competition and Police Explorers; Paid internship opportunities with the Justice Resource Center.
Biz-Tek prepares students for college and careers in a range of business and STEM fields. CTE endorsed programs in Virtual Enterprise, Cyber Security/Software Engineering, CAD/CAM--Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacturing; and Information Technology and Computer Networking, training for Cisco certifications, CompTIAA+, Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (C-CENT), and Cisco Certified Networking, Associate (CCNA).
French, Japanese, Spanish
Advanced Placement (AP) courses
AP Biology, AP Calculus AB, AP Computer Science, AP English Language and Composition, AP English Literature and Composition, AP Environmental Science, AP Spanish, AP U.S. History, AP World History
Boys PSAL teams
Baseball, Basketball, Bowling, Cross Country, Handball, Indoor Track, Soccer, Tennis, Volleyball, Wrestling
Girls PSAL teams
Basketball, Bowling, Cross Country, Gymnastics, Handball, Indoor Track, Outdoor Track, Soccer, Softball, Tennis, Volleyball
Coed PSAL teams
Jamaica NY 11432