Vol. 16, No. 21 Oct. 23 - Nov. 5, 2003


Making the Most of Middle School Choice


Choosing a middle school has always been a source of parental headaches and nail biting. But with the vast changes this year in the school system, parents have an even greater task ahead of them.

At a middle school fair held last week by the Educational Counseling Center (ECC), a local agency established by the Mosholu Montefiore Community Center, PS 8 parents Claris Villatoro and Barbara Echevarria busily amassed reams of information. Caucusing together to sift through the options, they are doing their homework early. Both of their children are still in the fourth grade.

"We're getting a jump on things," said Villatoro, from Norwood. "There are new rules, and a lot to learn." Both collected applications to begin getting a handle on different schools' guidelines, as nearly 300 attendees drifted among different school tables.

There are pros and cons to every school option, and parents should be prepared to ask some tough questions. Does the school have special programs to encourage learning? Will art, music or special academic programs be offered? Does the school have a calm, welcoming atmosphere, or is it a madhouse? Is it in the neighborhood or will transportation be necessary? 

Education experts advise parents to start thinking about these and other questions early. While it may feel like the kids just enrolled in school for this year, many middle schools require applications, recommendations or a battery of tests for next year. For arts schools like the Bronx Dance Academy, there is a two-part audition. Others mandate interviews.

All this information can be overwhelming, especially for kids. PS 340 student Grace Bruno sat down determinedly before a stack of applications at the ECC fair. "It's really scary to think about going to a new school," said Bruno, 11, filling in her name on a form for the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in Riverdale.

To help parents and kids, the Norwood News came up with this guide to navigating the system. For more specific guidance locally, consult the ECC at 3085 Bainbridge Ave. in Norwood (718-652-0470). 

A great resource on the Web is, which is chock full of school profiles and advice (and provided much of the research for this guide). 

  • Talk to the Learning Support Center: The old districts used to handle transfers and admissions to special middle school programs. With the districts basically defunct, the new regions are all handling the process differently. The local Learning Support Center at One Fordham Plaza (718-741-7090) is a good starting point for getting a sense of how Region 1 is handling middle school choice. 

  • Go to the open houses: Many selective programs showcase their classrooms during established times. Other schools can be viewed by calling the guidance counselor. This is one of the most important steps in getting a flavor of the school environment, and asking specific questions. 

  • Attend middle school fairs: Many agencies and schools host representatives from various middle school options at a fair. PS 51 held one this week contact your child's current elementary and prospective middle schools to see if they plan to organize an event.

  • Formulate questions: Prepare a list of questions before taking a tour or talking to a staff person. This is a good way to get information about the school's philosophy, teaching style, programs and clubs, and atmosphere.

  • Give the school a good up-and-down: Are the teachers engaging? Do the students look bored? How are the classroom libraries? Are the books new and are there enough of them? Are the classroom walls lined with students' work? Are the projects interesting and well executed? And most importantly, could you envision your child walking down these hallways?

  • Get your child involved: Bring them on the tours. Gauge their reactions to different schools. Make sure they're happy with the option they will have to live with.

  • Establish good relationships with teachers and the school's secretary: Middle schools will often require letters of recommendation and school records, including the fourth grade state exams. Having the school administration on your side is helpful in gathering together all the required information. 

  • Do your research: Talk with teachers at your child's school about where they might do well. Visit the Education Counseling Center, and ask for one-on-one guidance and their middle school resource directory. Ask other parents of middle schoolers about their child's experience.

A Middle School Choice Dictionary

School of choice: Public middle schools that are not zoned. Choice schools are usually smaller than traditional middle schools, and attendance is based on an application, audition, school record or other criteria. Some use a lottery (like the Jonas Bronck Academy). Students may attend choice schools in their region, or anywhere in the city. 

Zoned/neighborhood school: A middle school that has room (or is intended to) for all local students who choose to go there. Established by the superintendent, the zone is based on residential address. This school is the default unless parents seek out other options. 

Gifted/talented program: High performing children may attend a "gifted" program. All Region 1 schools offer an honors track, while some gifted programs are schools unto themselves. Often quite competitive, gifted programs usually require solid academic performance, high state exam scores and teacher recommendations.

Magnet school: Schools with magnet programs receive extra public funding to support special programs (like art, drama, science) to make the school more attractive. MS 80 featured environmental science and law classes last year. PS/MS 20 and 95 also have magnet programs. 

Charter school: While operating outside the public school system, charter schools receive state funding after submitting an application to start the school. They often have a unique atmosphere and philosophy. They are open to children by lottery. 


Directory of Region 1 Middle Schools

Bronx Dance Academy (BDA)
School of Choice
3617 Bainbridge Ave.
(718) 515-0410
Principal: Meridith Nasjletti

Jonas Bronck Academy 
School of Choice 
4525 Manhattan College, Hayden Hall 
(718) 884-6673
Director: Mercedes Booth

MS 118/ PACE Academy 
School of Choice
577 E. 179th St. 
(718) 584-2330
Director: Allan Kurtz

MS 118/ Spectrum Program
School of Choice
577 E. 179th St. 
(718) 584-2330, ext. 424 
Director: Anne Piotrowski

MS45/ Thomas C. Giordano School 
School of Choice (mini-schools)
2502 Lorillard Pl.
(718) 584-1660
Principal: Joseph Solanto

PS/MS 20/ The George J. Werdann III School 
Zoned School
3050 Webster Ave. 
(718) 584-5510
Principal: Carol Carlsen

PS/MS 95/ The Sheila Mencher Van Cortlandt Park School 
Zoned School
3961 Hillman Ave. 
(718) 796-9200 
Principal: Elizabeth Lopez

MS 80/ Isobel Rooney School
Zoned School 
149 E. Mosholu Pkwy. 
(718) 405-6300
Principal: Lovey Rivera

The Theater Arts Production Company (TAPCO)
School of Choice 
2225 Webster Ave., fourth floor (at MS 391)
(718) 584-0832
Director: Lynn Passarella

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