Walking the hushed halls of Lower East Side Preparatory High School today, you wouldn’t know that hundreds of its students are still busy studying and learning. They just do it very quietly.
A transfer school for older students who aren’t on track to graduate in four years, Lower East Side Prep mainly serves recent immigrants from China as well as a handful of American students. Because few students enroll as fluent English-speakers, a whopping half of the student body takes summer school classes in preparation for the regular school year. That’s 300 of the school’s 600-student population. This summer the school is offering five ESL classes and other subjects taught in both English and Chinese.
Most Lower East Side Prep teachers speak Chinese and English and many have hard-to-find dual certifications such as ESL and geometry. Getting teachers with these qualities to work in summer school is always difficult, said principal Martha Polin. She began putting together her summer school team early this year.
While some of their classmates went on a field trip across the Brooklyn Bridge, most students stayed behind in classes geared toward getting them to pass Regents exams. Transfer schools are only given money for students until they reach the age of 21, making it vital for them to pass the state exams and graduate as soon as possible. Last year, Lower East Side Prep had a six-year graduation rate of about 60 percent. In the last three years the school has gotten A’s on all of its progress reports.
In one English class, a teacher had students dissect a poem by William Butler Yeats, searching for the poem’s protagonist and which literary devices were being used. Though it was a Friday in July, eyelids didn’t droop and students smiled at the teacher’s energy. They laughed at his insistence that one young man pull his hands out of his pockets and straighten his spine while delivering the correct pronunciation of Yeats’ name to his classmates.
Downstairs, in the school’s air-conditioned gym, about 60 students played badminton, ping pong, and did pull ups, all in an effort to get one of the seven gym credits they’ll need to graduate.
Most teachers at the school speak both Chinese and English and many whiteboards bear writing in both.