|Townsend Harris High School
149-11 Melbourne Avenue
Flushing, NY 11367
Admissions policy: Selective
Grade levels: 9-12
Graduation rate: 99%
Class size: 25-34
Ethnicity: 49% W, 10% B, 10% H, 31% A
Average SATs: Verbal, 625; math, 621
Free lunch: 17%
|Townsend Harris High School is to Queens
what Stuyvesant is to Manhattan and Bronx Science is to the Bronx: a super-high-powered,
highly selective school that consistently sends graduates to the Ivy League.
But Townsend Harris differs in several key respects. It focuses on the
classics and humanities rather than on science (although advanced science
students may compete for the Intel Talent Search prize; five were finalists
in 2001). It's a manageable size, with an enrollment that's one-third
the size of the so-called science schools. Townsend Harris has managed
to reduce class size to 25 students in 40 percent of its courses, while
the others have standard class sizes ranging from 30 to 34. Its population
is about 65 percent female; Stuyvesant and Science have mostly boys. Classical
music, rather than bells, announces class changes. Townsend Harris has
events such as Pajama Day when everyone wears pajamas to school.
And the students eat in a "dining room," not a cafeteria.
The curriculum is traditional, and students follow roughly the same
course of study as at other public high schools. Students are expected
to take three to four years of a modern language Japanese, Hebrew,
Spanish, or French in addition to Latin or Greek. Students are
encouraged to develop their skills in speaking and defending an argument.
The school's debate team won a statewide moot-court championship three
years in a row.
The school has a strong sense of community almost a clubbiness
fostered by school traditions. All students recite the "Ephebic
oath," in which they promise to be good citizens and to leave their city
better than they found it. Alumni have raised a $1.5 million endowment
for developing new programs.
How hard is it to get in? Between 3,000 and 4,000 apply for 250
seats. The admissions process is somewhat mysterious, and many highly
qualified candidates are turned away. There is no test, and no writing
sample. Rather, applicants are judged according to their reading scores,
math scores, grades, and attendance records. Only students who list Townsend
Harris as their first choice and who meet the cutoff and have an exceptionally
high grade-point average are considered. Students living anywhere in New
York City may apply.
Downsides: Townsend Harris has more limited Advanced Placement
offerings than the specialized high schools. Also, the dress code is strict
(no tank tops) and the homework on the heavy side (four hours a night).
Guidance and college counseling: The size of the school, with
250 students in each grade, means students get more help with college
admissions than they might at a very large school. "We meet with students
in small groups their junior year, and with their parents, and draw up
an individual plan," says college counselor Marilyn Blier.