Friday, October 26

Middle School Muddle: Climbing walls, clubs, and gyms – Is this any way to choose a middle school?

“You are not going to believe this,’’ my 10-year-old son announced at dinner this week, after his second middle school tour. He was telling his older brother about the impressive, amenities-rich IS 126 in Chinatown, also known as the Manhattan Academy of Technology.

“They have a climbing wall! And a surfing club! They have 34 different sports, and they have actual fields – it’s crazy!’’

Big brother, a jaded seventh-grader at the Clinton School for Artists and Writers, wasn’t impressed, even though his middle school – which he absolutely loves – has few such frills.

“Is that how you are going to judge a middle school?’’ he asked tartly. “You are going to choose a school for a climbing wall? Are the academics any good?"

It’s hard for grown-ups to imagine what it’s like for all these 9- and 10-year-olds, hiking up stairs, visiting different neighborhoods and peering into classrooms. They aren’t thinking about specialized high school placement, curriculum and teacher qualifications.

Our 5th-grade teacher at PS 150 in Tribeca gave parents a little insight into what the kids are thinking about on tours. Seems these little consumers have developed a savvy reserved for New York City apartment hunters: obsession with size, location and, of course, amenities.

A tour – good or bad – can make an enormous impression. And MAT impresses. The kids peered into a math class, saw a large, well equipped art room and heard about clubs, band, fashion design, robotics, web design and a typing class. They learned the classes are smaller (about 25 kids in most cases) than many other middle schools.

But what about the academics?

That’s the most critical question to me and I’ll take a closer look in another post. It’s hard to tell during a whirlwind tour and the tail end of a lesson crammed with visitors.

Here’s how my 10-year-old answered big brother on that question: “They had an amazing science room, with fish tanks and frogs,’’ he said. “And I really liked the principal. She seemed very nice, and very organized. But I don’t think the writing I saw was as good as the writing at Clinton.’’

Then he was back to the amenities: “They already have every sport there is, practically,’’ he repeated. “And they have fields, actual fields. I didn’t know there could be actual fields in New York City.’’

Read all of the "Middle School Muddle" series.


Ryan said...

This is the most hilarious blog I've read to date and I actually have pains in my sides from laughing out loud. The amount of attention and adoration that the physical education and athletics program at M.A.T. has gotten recently has reached a frenzy. It's great to see a child's point of view on a middle school tour, but this sounds more like a trip to a local supermarket cereal aisle. The kids want the sweet, colorful, sugary, fun Fruit Loops cereal while their parents are busy throwing Oat Bran into the carts. The kids want all the sports, the phys ed classes, the art, the fashion design, the music, the Spanish Cultures classes and the robotics technology while the parents are concerned with the academic rigor. Here's what's great about M.A.T.: the kids can get both. The thing is, the classroom teachers here do the impossible: they make the Oat Bran taste just like the Fruit Loops. The children here LOVE their academic subject teachers and they come to school so excited to learn each and every single day. Truth be told, the classroom teachers at M.A.T. are the real gems of the school. Yes, we are proud of our afterschool programs and our sports teams, but when it's put in such a spotlight like it has been recently, it's easy to forget that M.A.T. is an academic school FIRST and foremost. The teachers here are amazingly talented and ridiculously dedicated. It's not out of the norm to see classroom teachers walking out of school at 7:30 on a Friday night. The academic program here challenges, intrigues and captivates learners on all levels. The children at M.A.T. are truly lucky to be here.

Roberta said...

I am another parent of a M.A.T. student. Sure she loved the climbing wall, but what she loved more was the diversity of the school, the commitment of faculty, staff and students to teaching and learning.

All her teachers seem very young to me, but they are amazing! This is an incredible school.