Icahn Charter School 5
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Unusually small classes and an engaging curriculum
Limited special education services
Icahn Charter 5 is a high-performing school with steady leadership and engaging instruction. It's part of a small network of charter schools opened with the support of billionaire financier Carl Icahn. Like all schools in the network, Icahn 5's school day and school year are longer than in traditional public schools. Class size is small--just 18 students, even in the upper grades--and there are only two classes per grade.
Located in a quiet and leafy section of Morris Park in the Bronx, three Icahn schools--3, 4, and 5--share a large, renovated building that was once home to the Mother Butler Memorial High School for Girls. The three schools have separate administration and teaching staffs, but their classrooms are mixed throughout the building. Floors are organized by grade, not by school so, for instance, you will find 3rd grade classrooms for all three schools clustered together on the same hallway.
Icahn 5 has a calm and orderly environment. Children wear uniforms and rules are enforced, but the tone is not harsh or rigid. Classrooms in the younger graders are cheerful. Children sit in groups at tables but also can stretch out on colorful rugs and sit on beanbags to read a book. During lessons we observed, kids were serious and engaged, but also smiling and chatting as they worked.
At the heart of the Icahn model is the use of the Core Knowledge curriculum, which is designed to expose students to a broad range of historical, scientific and cultural topics from an early age. Students do lots of talking and writing about what they are studying, and develop advanced vocabularies from all the subject matter they are expected to learn.
While curriculum is standardized across the network, teachers have the freedom to decide how they want to deliver their lessons. Some rely more heavily on class-wide and independent work, while others encourage students to work in groups.
During our visit, we found a strong emphasis on writing, particularly in the upper grades where students are expected to write lengthy and detailed pieces, such as research papers on underwater exploration or essays on a prominent females ranging from Malala Yousafzai to Mary Wollstonecraft.
Daily science classes start in kindergarten. Starting in 3rd grade every child gets a Chromebook to use both at school and home, but we saw use of technology in the younger grades too. Sixth grade follows a modified, middle school format. Students have one teacher for math and another for English and social studies. Seventh-and 8th-graders travel to different rooms for different subjects. Spanish instruction starts in the 7th grade.
The small class sizes allow for teachers to keep close tabs on students. Those needing extra help get support after school, on Saturdays, or in small groups during the regular school day.
Classes run from 8:30 am to 3:45 pm. There are free after-school activities run onsite.
Icahn 5 opened in 2011 and graduated its first class of 8th-graders in 2018.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school offers SETTS and extra support for English language learners through the target assistance program.
ADMISSIONS: Admissions is by lottery and there typically is a long waitlist. Priority is given to siblings of current students and then to District 11 residents. A handful of seats are open in the upper grades. (Laura Zingmond, April 2017)