At most schools, class names are mundane, usually a no-nonsense series of numbers with a letter or two thrown in. But at Harlem Village Academy Charter School, classes are named after American universities. Students are not a part of class 101 or 503, but Manhattanville, Cornell or Yale.
According to Matt Scott, the school’s senior director of business management, the unusual class names reinforce the school’s mission.
“That’s part of the college prep culture we have, where everything is focused on getting the kids into college from day one,” Scott said.
Harlem Village Academy is officially a 6th-through-12th grade school, although the middle school and high school are housed in two separate locations. It is tiny, with about 300 students overall, which allows the school to create classes with as few as 16 students. The small classes are especially helpful for Harlem Village Academy’s younger students.
“In middle school, they come from two to four grade levels behind, but by 8th grade, they’re caught up,” Scott said.
In addition to small classes, the school also has a longer school day. Students have class from 7:30 a.m. to 4:40 p.m., with optional homework help and extracurricular activities until 5:30 p.m.
“In middle school, there’s a theater class, dance class and violin class,” Scott said. “The high school also has after-school yoga classes and cooking classes.”
Harlem Village Academy also believes in using hard facts to pick out students who need help. Teachers constantly perform informal assessments, handing children two or three questions to answer before the school day is over to see if they understand new concepts.
“We don’t just pick kids who we think are struggling. We use the data from classrooms,” Scott said.
Formal assessments show that the school is succeeding in bringing its students up to—and above—grade level. This year, 100 percent of Harlem Village Academy 8th graders passed the New York State math test and science exam. It comparison, only about 50 percent of students in other Harlem school districts passed the math exam.
The school has done so well that President George W. Bush visited Harlem Village Academy in April 2007, calling the school a place “where some may say these children can’t possibly exceed high standards, but in fact they are.”
Scott believes the staff is the main reason why the school has been doing so well.
“It’s not the program,” Scott said, “it’s the people. We devote a lot of our effort to hiring the best teachers we possibly can and giving them professional development.”
At Harlem Village Academy, students start learning about college at a young age. Middle school students “go to various colleges each year to get a sense of what it’s like there,” Scott said.
According to development partnership director Michelle Choi, one of the biggest challenges Harlem Village Academy’s new principal, Laurie Warner, faces is convincing families that their children can make it. Many of the students will be the first in their families to go to college.
“The biggest challenge that she finds is getting the initial hurdle or hump of confidence levels of parents and children thinking they can’t go,” Choi said. “It’s just getting them on the same page of yes, this is something we can get over together.”
Harlem Village Academy Charter School
244 W. 144th St.
New York, N.Y. 10030
Laurie Warner, Principal
— Patty Lee