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Amber Charter School
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Small classes, lots of individual support for students
Cramped facilities, no students admitted after 2nd grade
Located in the heart of East Harlem, Amber Charter offers small classes, solid teaching and Spanish language instruction in all grades. Teachers and staff do a good job at serving a broad range of students and offer all children lots of academic and social support.
Founded in 2000 with support from The Community Association of Progressive Dominicans, the school is housed in an old, four-story building with high ceilings and narrow hallways painted in cheery colors. A second Amber Charter is slated to open in Washington Heights in September 2016.
The tone throughout the school is calm and nurturing. Students wear uniforms and have to follow rules, such as silent passing in the hallways, but overall discipline is gentle. For instance, a child who has trouble sitting through a full day of classes may be given a quiet place in the building where she can go to decompress. On the day of our visit, Principal Sasha Elliot offered a solution to a boy who forgot to wear his tie (part of the uniform). Why dont you leave one in your desk or in my office so youll never forget it again, she said and then chatted with the boy about his campaign for student president.
In classes we saw a mix of traditional and progressive teaching methods. Math drills, phonics and grammar instruction help shore up basic skills, but teachers also weave-in hands-on assignments. In all grades, teachers break up the class into smaller groups to have students work on tasks at their level. This allows teachers to tailor lessons to students needs and keep them from getting restless by having them switch activities and move around the room, according to Elliot. For instance, during a 3rd-grade math lesson we observed, students spread out across the room to work at one of three math stations: playing a money game to practice estimation skills, solving word problems, and practicing math facts (a speed game for the strongest group of students and flash cards for the rest).
Grades 3 through 5 follow a modified middle school format where students have different teachers for different subjects. Third-graders have one teacher for English and social studies and another for math and science. Fourth- and 5th-graders have three teachers each: one for English, one for math and one for social studies and science. The benefit is that students are taught each of these subjects by a specialist in a classroom filled with resources to support that subject.
All kindergarten, 1st- and 2nd-grade classes have teaching assistants. Grades k to 3 participate in Music and the Brain, a well-respected program where kids learn to read music, play the keyboard and sing. Technology is taught in grades 3-5; students learn to prepare PowerPoints presentations, build websites, create brochures and write resumes. Second-graders travel to the Vanderbilt YMCA for swim instruction.
Students in all grades have art, gym and Spanish once a week.
Daily tutoring is provided in the afternoon; students needing additional support are invited to a Saturday academy. Rising 3rd-graders attend a four-week summer program with half the day dedicated to math and English instruction and the other half spent on field trips and fun activities such as kite flying in a local park.
The school runs an after-school program. There is $150 per month fee with some scholarships available.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Services include counseling and speech, as well as occupational and physical therapy off campus. There is a SETSS instructor to help children as needed.
ADMISSIONS: Lottery with preference to District 4 families, though many students from other parts of Manhattan and the Bronx attend. The school does not admit students after the 2nd grade. (Laura Zingmond, October 2015)Read more