Marsh Avenue School for Expeditionary Learning
Hands-on and creative projects, modern and spacious facilities
School starts very early
Marsh Avenue School for Expeditionary Learning is a small, vibrant middle school with a creative curriculum, cheery environment and spacious, modern facilities. It has become a top choice for Staten Islanders and attracts students from all over the borough.
The idea behind Expeditionary Learning is that children develop critical thinking skills and important traits such as perseverance when they study topics deeply and across multiple academic subjects. At Marsh Avenue, students in all grades participate in several 12-week-long projects or expeditions each year that may start in one subject, such as science or social studies, and then carry over into other classes.
Some expeditions focus on topics traditionally taught in middle school, such as ancient civilizations and early-20th-century immigration to the United States. For instance, an 8th-grade expedition called The Price of Progress starts in social studies, where students research immigrant life and visit the Tenement Museum. In science, 8th-graders then study diseases prevalent in tenement life; in math, they evaluate and present health statistics from that period; in English, they prepare oral and written presentations responding to the overarching question: Is the price of progress worth it?
Other expeditions tap into more homegrown interests. Sixth-graders learn about the nearby Fresh Kills Landfill, once the largest landfill in the world that has since been converted to a public park. In a math class we observed, students were working in groups on surveys they developed based on their science classs study of Fresh Kills' air quality and environmental pollutants. One student hypothesized that the survey data will show that older Staten Islanders will be more likely than younger residents to oppose the Fresh Kills park out of concern for health hazards.
Group work is a staple of instruction throughout the school and its common to hear the chatter of students working together when walking into a classroom. Research and writing are emphasized in all subjects and students are taught to organize their thoughts and write multiple drafts to achieve a polished final piece.
Students have true ownership of the experience and get excited about what theyre learning, said Cara De Angelo the schools principal since September 2013. De Angelo, a former elementary school teacher, assistant principal and schools network support leader, replaced Marsh Avenues founding principal, Jessica Jenkins.
Each teacher serves as an advisor to a small group of students called a crew and stays with the same crew for their three years at that school. Students have a safe place in their crew and know they go to their crew teacher or their crew members if they need help, said De Angelo. Each crew meets several times each week and performs community service projects.
Each 8th-grader participates in a pre-graduation tradition called passages, a touching, private event where the student reflects on work from all three years before an audience of his family and a few staff members and students. Students also take the lead at parent-teacher conferences, presenting their achievements and goals and answering questions from parents and teachers.
All students study Spanish, have gym class three times each week and take elective courses that can vary by semester but include options such as chorus, band, visual arts, broadcast journalism and technology.
The school day starts very early at 7:35 am and ends at 1:55 pm, though most students stay for after school activities that include tutoring, sports, student council, computer programming, rock band, cheerleading, dance, chess and science clubs.
Marsh Avenue shares the facilities with CSI International High School and the Gaynor McCown Expeditionary Learning School. The spacious and airy structure is thoughtfully configured: Each school is housed in its own, dedicated wing of the building designed with its own main entrance and main office space. All schools share use of the centrally located gym, cafeteria, library and elevator bank.
Most students stay on the island for high school. Popular choices include CSI International, Gaynor McCown and Staten Island Tech. Some graduates attend small Manhattan high schools as well as Stuyvesant and La Guardia.
Special education: Integrated co-teaching classes, SETSS classes and a self-contained 12:1 class on every grade. School leaders say they are very committed to including students with special needs in all aspects of the school and adjusting teaching methods to fit students' different learning styles.
Admission: District 31 lottery. Parents must attend an open house and sign in. The school receives roughly 1800 applications for 150 seats. Busing is provided for students. (Laura Zingmond, May, 2014)
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Staten Island, NY 10314