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Top Public High Schools
Beacon School
227 West 61st Street
New York, NY 10023
Admissions policy: Educational option
Grade levels: 9-12
Graduation rate: 84%
Enrollment: 900
Class size: 28-34
Ethnicity: 46% W, 18% B, 28% H, 8% A
Average SATs: 1,010
Free lunch: 24%

The Beacon School was founded in 1993 by teachers from the Computer School who wanted to create a high school with the same spirit of innovation and cozy atmosphere. 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."

Located in a coolly converted warehouse near the Hudson River, Beacon uses the Internet to an unusual degree. All teachers and students have their own e-mail addresses, and many students have their own Websites. Students may e-mail teachers at home with questions. Parents can look up a teacher's assignment on the school site.

The school is solidly in the progressive camp and stresses the use of "portfolio assessment" over standardized tests. In order to graduate, students must demonstrate their proficiency in major disciplines with written and oral reports.

The art projects give students a chance to follow their own interests. One student made a photo exhibit on hip-hop music. Another photographed homeless people and wrote about their living conditions. Some students produce their own CDs.

Teachers use textbooks sparingly, but the school isn't completely nontraditional: A wide range of Advanced Placement courses is offered, including calculus, statistics, biology, chemistry, environmental science, and physics, and teachers help students prepare for AP exams in several other disciplines.

One parent who loves the 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."

How hard is it to get in? Preference is given to students who live in District 3. 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.

Downsides: Some kids find the lack of structure difficult.

Guidance and college counseling: Each student has the same adviser for four years. Kids meet with their advisers in groups of fifteen to twenty for 40 minutes twice a week. In addition, kids and teachers often talk informally during their free periods.

Web Extras

School site

Description from the Board of Education

1999-2000 School Report from Board of Education (pdf format)

  • Baruch College Campus High School
  • Beacon School
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    From the October 22, 2001 issue of New York Magazine.
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