Hunter's Point Community Middle School
Strong leadership, innovative science, debate and meditation
Becoming really popular really fast
A waterfront location with stunning views of the East River and Midtown Manhattan is not the only draw at Hunter's Point Community Middle School. Opened in 2013, the school also has an award-winning debate team, oyster beds in the front yard, instrumental music and four brief periods of student-led meditation a day.
Science has relevance for these city kids attending school at the water's edge: On our visit they were in the lab gathering data on the oysters they had planted in the East River. "No one's going to eat them," a boy advised. "They are filter cleaners for the river." Their data is sent to the Harbor School on Governor's Island, which also farms oysters.
Children are gentle and kind to one another here, maybe because it is in the school's mission to be inclusive of children with special needs. Children of all races play chess together and chat at lunch, and kids who receive one-on-one help from an adult shoot hoops alongside their general education peers in the gym. Like most middle school kids, they separate themselves by gender, but we saw one or two mixed-gender groups in the lunchroom and in gym class, too.
"If you want to find kids who represent the whole city, you'll find them here," said Principal Sarah Goodman, a former math coach, teacher and alumna of Brown University. Posted in the hallways are profiles of her diverse staff including pictures of what they looked like as middle school students themselves.
All teachers are literacy teachers here, following the Middle School Quality Initiative (MSQI), a school-wide approach to literacy from Harvard. In this program the entire community focuses on one big question each week, for example, Should handguns be illegal? Students read articles and do tasks related to the question in every class, even math and science. They use the same list of vocabulary words, which are posted in every room, and write an essay. At the end of the week, advisorsincluding music, gym, science and math teachersall grade student essays.
The school uses the project-based Expeditionary Learning curriculum for English language arts and Connected Math, a program that emphasizes solving real-world problems. Kids also take a position and debate the question of the week. Goodman credits this program in part for her students' excellent debating skills: Her 6th-graders have won many trophies, even in competition with older students.
As the school expands, children in 7th and 8th grade will be separated into math groups according to ability so top students can take the algebra Regents. Those who need extra help meet three times a week in small groups and work independently on computer programs.
A cozy feature of Hunter's Point is four brief periods of daily meditation. "It's nice to exhale all the energy," said 6th-grader Emani. "When I'm not on track it helps me get back on track." There are interesting choice classes like mindful drawing or cultural explorers, and every student learns to play an instrument. Art, theater and Spanish have been added with the expansion to 7th grade.
Hunter's Point is located on the third floor of a building shared with Academy for Television and Film High School and the Riverview School, a 6-12 District 75 program for children with severe learning differences. (About eight of these children are dual-enrolled in Hunter's Point.) The high school students help out in the middle school film class and the leaders of the three schools share a Google doc so they can easily communicate with each other.
Special education: About 30 percent of the students have special needs including those who are dual-enrolledwhich is not included in our InsideStats data. Services include a self-contained class, team-taught classes and a SETSS teacher. Wheelchairs can navigate the wide hallways and there are elevators. Paraprofessionals are chosen for their skills and diversity: One was a math teacher in Bangladesh, another an economist there, and a third did biology research in the Dominican Republic.
Admissions: There are more than 400 applications for four 6th-grade classes. Priority goes to families who attend an open house. (Lydie Raschka, May 2014)