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A Neighborhood School Grooms Global Citizens on Henry Street

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Erin McMahon. Photo by Tobi Elkin

If a tree grows in Brooklyn, what’s growing on the Lower East Side? For starters, kids who are learning how to be citizens of the world, according to Erin McMahon, principal of The Henry Street School for International Studies (HSSIS).

Located at 220 Henry Street, the school has 440 students ranging from grades 6 through 12 and is co-located with CASTLE Middle School and University Neighborhood Middle School, both of which serve grades 6 through 8. Also located within the Corlears Complex is the New York City Center for Space Science Education, a unique program that teaches students about space exploration and flight. McMahon, principal of HSSIS since 2008, presides over a school population that’s 55% Latino, 35% African-American, 20% Asian and 2% Caucasian/other.

The school was established in 2004 with The Asia Society and funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. HSSIS is part of a network of 33 schools across the U.S. that offer kids an education that’s on the level of a private school experience. Class size in the middle school is about 15 or fewer, while in the high school, classroom size is 20 to 22.

The goal at HSSIS is to create opportunities for global competence and to develop kids’ critical thinking skills across disciplines. The academic program focuses on ensuring that kids are college-ready and globally competent. The school also offers electives in Mandarin Chinese, swing dance, web design and poetry, among others. The philosophy of the school encourages students to investigate global issues, weigh a variety of  perspectives, communicate their ideas and take action when they see a change that needs to be made, according to McMahon.

To that end, each month, HSSIS students go into a neighborhood in New York and perform service projects. “In order to raise kids who are ready to compete in a global society, we set up a program that weaves together academics and performance-based experiential learning,” McMahon explained. For example, last year, HSSIS students studied the change in the subway fares and then went into stations to analyze who was riding the subway and when they were riding it.

Another core focus at HSSIS is cultivating communications skills and being able to convey ideas through various platforms including writing and digital media. High school students were involved in designing the school’s website which incorporated their feelings about music. They were also tasked with presenting the design to the middle school students.

McMahon said that students are also encouraged to actively program  the activities that they want at school and to identify advisers who help support them. For example, this year, many extra-curricular clubs were student-driven—Double-Dutch, Poetry and Chess clubs. These clubs are active after school from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. during the school’s Extended Learning Time. “We work with The After School Corp. to create extended learning opportunities that expand the school day,” she added. “We ask the kids to generate the ideas to get their buy-in.”

Other after school programs include a collaboration with the NYC Center for Space Science, the Henry Street Settlement and the World Soccer Project. Students can choose programs in athletics (soccer, baseball, boxing, etc.), arts, music, drama, college preparation courses (SAT and college counseling) and the sciences (Aviation and Robotics).

McMahon taught middle school in the Bronx, as well as at Eleanor Roosevelt High School on the Upper East Side and a graduate of Teach for America. She says HSSIS is currently accepting applications for both 6th and 9th grade applicants for the 2012-13 School Year. To schedule a visit, call the school’s Parent Coordinator, Ms. Rodriguez, at 212.406.9411 x 465.


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