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community, education
Date posted/01-18-02

Why My School Is The Best

by Trevor Thomas


I am sure every high school student who attends a high in the five boroughs of New York city knows about the specialized high schools-- Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, LaGuardia . But have you heard of The Beacon School. In fact we were featured in the reference book of New York City's Best Public High Schools by CLARA HEMPHILL . It is an alternative public high school on the West Side of Manhattan in New York City. Only students who list Beacon as their first choice are considered for admission. Last year, 1,300 kids applied for 150 spots in the ninth grade. "Beacon focuses on aesthetics, arts and technology." Our Graduation rate is 84%, enrollment is 900, our class sizes contain up to 28-34 students. Our ethnicity rate is: 46% White, 18% Black, 28% Hispanic and 8% Asian. Our over all average on SATs were 1,010

My school, The Beacon School, was founded in 1993 by Ms. Lacy and Mr. Stoll who were teachers from the Computer School who wanted to create a high school with the same amount of innovation and cozy atmosphere. Shortly after, Beacon quickly became one of the most sought-after alternative schools in the city. "We are teachers first, before we are English teachers or math teachers or science teachers," says Christopher Lehmann, an English and technology teacher at Beacon. "We are not just dealing with our own little subjects. We are dealing with a whole child. Whether we're laughing-joking-silly or very serious, we care about the kids more than we care about our subject -- and we care about our subjects a great deal." One teacher at Beacon called the young, politically liberal, and eager staff there "wildly overeducated." Beacon is located in a building on 61st street that was converted from a warehouse.

My school grades souly on "portfolio assessment" over standardized tests. In order to graduate, we students must demonstrate our proficiency in major disciplines by presenting oral reports and written reports and with a collection of our best work. One of the good things about Beacon is that it gives us students an approach to learning which prepares us for situations we might encounter in college, the business world and in our communities. In order to offer our students the opportunity to apply these skills outside the school, Beacon offers the opportunity for students to be placed in internships which allow them to explore career possibilities. All tenth graders must do a service project in one of the many community agencies with which the school has established links. For students ready to take on increased academic challenges, Beacon offers Advanced Placement courses, Project Advance Syracuse University courses, Tufts University courses and the opportunity to take college courses at Fordham and Columbia Universities.

While traditional testing is used at Beacon, "our students performance is largely assessed through interdisciplinary projects, completed individually and in groups. This closely mirrors the demands of higher education and the way in which adults are evaluated in the workplace. Tasks must be assigned, leadership roles assumed, deadlines met, as students collaborate to complete the project." To graduate, students must present a collection of their best work, including the year-long Senior Project, to a faculty and student committee for evaluation. The School's project presentation model requires students to reflect on what they have learned and to articulate the process to others. Beacon School students have not taken Regents' Exams (under a five year variance from the New York Board of Regents.) They have received a Regents'-endorsed diploma if their work meets an acceptable standard according to a grading rubric.

At my school we try to make sense of the world, our selves and our habits. One of the reasons why my school is the best is because it helps me to openly express myself in class while discussing with other classmates their perspectives and opinion. So I learn not only a lot about myself but about other people and how they think. " We believe that educational expectations should not derive from arbitrary, preordained standards, but should be individualized to reflect student preference and ability. We seek to develop the creativity, strength, and integrity existing within each child." Our goal is to give our students the opportunities and resources to find meaning and success in their lives, as they define these in consultation with their parents and teachers. We believe that students are more likely to discover meaning in a curriculum that cuts across traditional subject borders. Interdisciplinary projects provide a chance to discover unifying themes and to make connections which enrich the student's world.

Technology is often the problem and solution to all of the problems facing society today. At Beacon we take full advantage of new technology. "Beacon is committed to the process of ensuring that technology serves education as opposed to education serving technology. It is our belief that technology, when used correctly, can enhance the educational experience for both teacher, student, and community. One of the main purposes at the Beacon School is to integrate the arts and technology across the curriculum. Because the skills taught in "stand-alone" computer classes are often quickly forgotten, all freshmen take a "laboratory" computer class in which they learn to use computers as tools in the production of their English, History and Science projects.

Not only are students at Beacon lucky students but they are provided with personalized file storage service as well as offering students and faculty the ability to create our own World Wide Web homepages and send E-mail across the internet. Each classroom has a computer, and we maintain three state of the art computer labs and three mini-labs, housing both Macintosh and IBM compatible systems for use by technology and core course classes. There are color scanners, video-editing and quick-take digital cameras available for use with these workstations.

Most of Beacon seniors are accepted to Universitys such as Brown, Columbia, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, Syracuse, Spellman, Penn State, New York and St. John University. Beacon is not all work and no fun. We have boys and girls bowling, Soccer, Basketball, Baseball, tennis, track and Ultimate Frisbee. We also have club sports such as kickboxing and PingPong. Beacon also offers clubs such as: A.S.P.I.R.A. ,The Beacon Band Beacon Times -- Online Newspaper ,Dance Club ,Fall, Musical ,internship/Career Seminar ,The Live Poets Society Passing It On ,Peer Counseling ,Photography Club S.A.T. Prep ,Science Honor Society ,Smackdown Chess Club Students Organizing Students (S.O.S.) ,Starfish Theaterworks Swing ,Tutoring Program and Women's Leadership.

The art projects give students a chance to follow their own interests. Teachers use textbooks sparingly, but the school isn't completely nontraditional: One parent who loves my school says, "If you're a kid who's not self-motivated, you might slide through without doing a lot of work. But the place has a joie de vivre that's wonderful."

Contact information for The Beacon School:
227 West 61street New York, NY 10023
Telephone (212) 245-2807 Fax (212) 245-2179
E-mail sstoll@beaconschool.org Web Site www.beaconschool.org


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