Bronx Lab School
Full-time college staff; Outdoor program and lots of trips
No Advanced Placement classes; struggling to improve test scores
APRIL 2010 UPDATE: Founding principal, Marc Sternberg resigned in June, 2009 to serve as a White House Fellow in the office of Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. In April, 2010, Mr. Sternberg was appointed as Deputy Chancellor of Portfolio Planning for the Department of Education.
Christopher Lagares became principal of Bronx Lab in July, 2009 after interning for a year at the school as part of his training with New Leaders for New Schools. Lagares also taught history for 11 years at Manhattan Village Academy.
In a telephone interview with Insideschools, Lagares said that Bronx Lab has a strong college placement program thanks to a grant from the Robin Hood Foundation that helps fund the school's three college advisors. According to Lagares, nine students, including three from the school's 2010 graduating class, won a Posse Scholarship.
OCTOBER 2006 REVIEW: At Bronx Lab, it's possible for students to spend part of the summer in China, kick off the school year by doing a ropes course with their classmates, and then work at a daycare center for credit. All of these experiences are encouraged by the school's unique program, which provides off-campus and extracurricular opportunities to augment the academic curriculum.
Since opening in 2004, Bronx Lab has worked, with some impressive results, to live up to its goal of expanding the classroom beyond the fourth floor of the Evander Childs campus. Three times a year, students go on multi-day trips, called "Explore Weeks," that are tied to community building, academic work, or a college search. For example, students have volunteered in post-Katrina New Orleans and on the Appalachian Trail, and juniors go on a college tour in the spring. Expeditions don't end when students return to school; the positive experience of a dozen students who taught English in China one summer led to the creation of a Chinese language program. Other students have attended a summer program at a New England prep school and traveled to Ecuador. About 15 students also participate in an internship program, working two days a week at various sites and taking classes together.
The many special programs are one reason that 90 percent of the school's first class is on track to graduate in four years (in 2008), according to Principal Marc Sternberg. Additionally, about 85 percent of these kids passed the Math A and Global Studies Regents exams before the end of their sophomore year, he said, although they did less well on the Living Environment exam with fewer than 80% passing.
The school accepts students with a wide range of academic abilities, but Bronx Lab is not for everyone. Students must be able to switch rapidly from activities to serious schoolwork. They must also have the initiative to take advantage of Bronx Lab's special programs which require students who are interested to complete a rigorous application process.
In a school where teachers go by their first names, the faculty has made concerted efforts to build up discipline by making students accountable for their behavior. Most notably, the school has an advisory program that builds real connections between students and their advisors; advisories meet four times a week for 40 minutes. "When you spend a week in the woods with your advisees, that is being more than just a teacher," Sternberg said. "But we are teachers and we want our kids prepared for college." That's why the new director of student life has focused attention on building a system of consequences and incentives to regulate behavior. For example, students who are disruptive or engage in food fights in the cafeteria might be asked to lead other students in improving lunchroom atmosphere, according to the director.
The teachers struck us as a group of young, highly educated professionals committed to improving their craft. "We've matured," Sternberg said, noting that teachers have spent "three years now working really hard to get it right." He calls the school's weekly teacher training sessions, which follow a detailed agenda and center around examining student work, "the nerve center of the week."
Teaching is based on a commitment to project-based instruction rather than teacher lectures, and students seem to respond positively to this approach, even though, as one student said, "Every time a project is due another one comes." We saw a 9th grade integrated math and science class where students moved calmly and purposefully around the room measuring objects. The teacher praised projects because they enable her to tailor instruction for students with a wide range of skills.
Where instruction was less differentiated, students' attention seemed to wane. In a more traditional 10th grade math class (math and science are broken into two separate classes in 10th grade to allow students to prepare for Regents exams), a few students working on problems individually were successful, but we saw others who simply had no idea how to do the task they were assigned. Similarly, in a 9th grade English class, a teacher brought in diverse and challenging sourcesa Breughel painting and a William Carlos Williams poem to discuss the myth of Icarusbut students didn't seem terribly excited about the lesson.
Students were more interested in a hands-on art class, where they were constructing books as part of a unit on "visual storytelling." Our poised student guides said they were learning in their classes, but they were most enthusiastic about the Explore Weeks and about the mandatory extended-day program, run by a community organization, which offers electives in drama, circus skills, photography, and young men's and women's issues, among others.
As its first class nears graduation, Bronx Lab has added a fulltime college counselor who describes herself as committed to "finding [students] a place where they can succeed." In particular, she is working hard to "make sure kids are active in the summertime," whether through Bronx Lab programs or other programs. The school also plans to offer advanced courses through the College Now program in which high school students take college courses.
Special education: The school has no separate classes for students with special needs; instead, all students are mainstreamed into regular classes.
Admissions: The school gives preference to students who attend an information session. (Philissa Cramer, October 2006)
About the students
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Programs and Admissions
Boys PSAL teams
Baseball, Basketball, Cross Country, Football, Indoor Track, Outdoor Track, Soccer, Swimming
Girls PSAL teams
Basketball, Cross Country, Indoor Track, Outdoor Track, Softball, Swimming, Volleyball