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Academy of American Studies
28-01 41st Avenue
Long Island City, NY 11101

Founded in 1996, the school has quickly established a reputation as a serious and successful institution that combines traditional subject matter with a style of teaching that fosters inquiry and debate. Students might travel to Gettysburg to re-enact Pickett’s charge or to Boston to walk the Freedom Trail. Teachers encourage students to read primary sources and to examine history from different points of view. “I teach them to be skeptical. I say, ‘Don’t believe everything you read,’ ” says history teacher Sharonna Kay. “History is gray, it’s not all black and white.” The school graduated its first class in 2000. Most went on to four-year colleges.

Bard High School Early College
424 Leonard Street
Brooklyn, NY 11222

It opened only a few weeks ago, but Bard, way out in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is the most groundbreaking new public high school in years. Modeled on the 35-year-old Simon’s Rock College in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, this school for bored, talented students is the baby of Bard College president and American Symphony Orchestra principal conductor Leon Botstein. College professors teach the eleventh- and twelfth-graders, and by the time they graduate, students will have been studying at university level for two years.

Frank Sinatra School of the Arts
29-10 Thomson Avenue
Long Island City, NY 11101

This is a brand-new school that offers a full academic program as well as special courses or “studios” in dance, instrumental music, vocal music, fine arts, and drama. In the eleventh grade, students may stay in their studio or switch to filmmaking, musical theater, or theater technology. Students are expected to perform “community service in the arts,” doing things such as organizing skits among hospital patients. Permanent quarters are to be built across the street from the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. The projected enrollment is 1,000.

High School for Environmental Studies
444 West 56th Street
New York, NY 10019;

This school was founded in 1992 to encourage students to be aware of threats to the environment, to become politically active, and to think about their place in society. To that end, one senior studied genetic changes in fruit flies at the American Museum of Natural History; another built trails in a Nature Conservancy preserve in upstate New York. Despite its green theme and innovative projects, the academic program is quite traditional. “This is a good school for academic achievers who want a well-rounded outlook on life,” says music teacher Beth Cohen. The school has had administrative problems, but it has a new principal this year.

The Institute for Environmental Studies
and the Urban Community at John F. Kennedy High School

99 Terrace View Avenue
the Bronx, NY 10463

JFK, with 4,000 students, is one of the largest high schools in the city and not high-achieving overall. But the Institute for Environmental Studies and the Urban Community is a new program at JFK in which students maintain the school garden and investigate environmental issues (the need for a water-filtration plant for New York City, for example.) Although the environmental studies regimen is new, the garden program is not, and students who have worked on the garden have had a remarkable college-admission record.

The Professional Performing Arts School
328 West 48th Street
New York, NY 10036

PPAS accommodates kids who are working in film, television, or theatrical productions. When they’re on location – sometimes for three months or more – teachers send them their lessons via email, fax, or FedEx. The teachers realize, perhaps better than the pupils, that today’s child star may be tomorrow’s unemployed has-been. “As a staff, we’re not lost in Broadway,” a science teacher says. “If anything, we’re very cynical about Broadway.” Graduation rates are unavailable because some students come for a limited period of time. (For example, a student from Chicago might attend for a year while performing in The Music Man, then return home.) The school shares a building with a popular and successful elementary school, Midtown West.

Urban Academy Laboratory High School
317 E. 67th Street
New York, NY 10021

With just 120 students and classes averaging fifteen pupils or fewer, the Urban Academy has an unusually imaginative and experienced teaching staff and a good record of keeping in school kids who might otherwise have dropped out. Word-of-mouth about its excellent program has spread, and now a few children are beginning to come here directly from their middle schools. Classes are heterogeneous in terms of grade level. Weekly community service is mandatory. There are no AP classes, but some students are allowed to take college courses at Hunter or the New School. Over 97 percent of graduates go on to four-year colleges.

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