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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Read Between the Lines

We had the grounds to ourselves - there literally was not one other person in sight. The city block that fronted the school was entirely free of cars - always worrisome. In New York City, the appearance of numerous legal parking spots (or an entire streets worth) is a warning sign - this typically means you have misinterpreted the signs. I reread the street parking signs carefully several times before parking.

But on an oppressive, hot, humid Sunday in August, it is understandable that no one is touring a place with all the charm of a prison yard. Nondescript, uninviting, institutional. The grass and trees that were there just seemed to highlight the inhospitable nature of the concrete accretion. A large mural graces the entrance lobby behind the green doors, but I did not even find this to be particularly attractive.
However, don't judge this book by its cover.

Virtually every New Yorker knows the prestigious triumvirate of specialized science high schools for gifted children: Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant High School, and Brooklyn Technical High School. I have had a number of friends, acquaintances, and employees who are graduates of these schools. My office manager for 15 years as well as her husband and most of her friends were alumni of Stuyvesant, while my current office manager is a graduate of Bronx Science. One does become spoiled working with young people like this - typically astute, quick, and very smart.

Admission to these schools is based on an entrance examination, the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT), which is open to all eighth and ninth grade New York City students. Out of the 26,000 students taking the entrance examination each year, only about 700 are admitted to Bronx Science.

Looking at this place, it seems unimaginable that anything of merit takes place behind those doors. However, Bronx Science is internationally known as one of the best high schools in the United States, public or private. The school is culturally, ethnically, and economically diverse. Seven graduates have won Nobel Prizes, more than from any other secondary education institution in the United States. Six have won Pulitzer Prizes. The school has had 132 finalists in the Intel (formerly Westinghouse) Science Talent Search, the largest number from any high school.

I expected genius to be oozing from the corridors, but my office manager assures me that school there was like any other - with cliques, gangs, and everything else that typifies high school. In New York City, where Content is King, places like Bronx Science require of us not only to not judge a book by its cover but also, once inside its pages, to go even deeper and read between the lines :)

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Mary P. said...

From this distance the mural has a religious aura. Science as god.

Sciencite said...

The "gangs" consist of ethnic cliques who make lower-classmen do push-ups if their grades are not high enough. Virtually no gang violence at Bronx Science.