hands on

Low-scoring but not closing, CTE school showcases job training

Graphic Communication Arts juniors Lissy Alcantara and Kianne Martinez and senior Aziza Ramsay show off the video on HIV awareness they shot and produced at FACES NY.

Just days after their school was spared from closure, students from Manhattan’s High School of Graphic Communication Arts showcased fruits of the school’s longstanding Career and Technical Education program.

Founded as the High School of Printing in 1925, Graphic Communication Arts has offered students hands-on training in photography and visual arts since a time when CTE programs were called vocational schools.

Now, through a workplace learning program funded by the city’s Department of Education and the federal government, dozens of students at the Hell’s Kitchen school are working as interns at private and public sector companies — 16 businesses this fall. More than 50 students also participated in summer internships that ran the gamut from print-production to photography to legal services.

Four of the students are putting their academic-year training in photo and film editing to use at FACES NY, a social services agency that helps at-risk populations with HIV/AIDS prevention. Earlier this year the interns shot and produced a video about HIV awareness, which they are promoting via a Facebook page and a Tumblr blog they maintain for the agency.

The mini-documentary they produced was as much a lesson in professionalism as film editing, according to the three students I met Tuesday, because it required them to talk to peers about sexuality and other difficult subjects.

“It’s done, but we need to go in and re-edit it now: bring the audio levels up, fix the text,” Aziza Ramsay, a senior, said after playing the 8-minute clip — a combination of narration, statistics and interviews with classmates about HIV.

The internships are meant to instill a sense of discipline and responsibility in the students by mirroring college and career expectations, according to Jack Kott, the school’s workplace learning coordinator. The students were selected through an application process at the school, Kott said, and all are paid minimum wage for up to 10 hours of work a week.

Last year more than 100 students from Graphics were able to take paid internships, but budget cuts slashed the number of students able to participate by more than half, according to Lantigua Sime, the assistant principal of CTE and photography.

“So far we’re still getting funding, but there is a lack of support from the DOE, and I don’t know why,” he said. “The Common Core calls for career and college readiness, and that is what we provide. That’s exactly what the federal government wants.”

Graphics was one of nine schools with CTE programs whose poor performance landed them on the city’s preliminary list of 21 high schools that could be closed this year. The school got an F on this year’s progress report, down from a D in 2010, even though its graduation rate rose by 5 percentage points.

Three other schools joined Graphics in escaping closure, but the city has proposed shuttering five schools with CTE programs. Three of them are, like Graphics, among the 33 city high schools fully designated as CTE schools. One of them, Grace Dodge Career and Technical High School, was chosen as a demonstration site when the city announced plans to bolster CTE programs two years ago.

Kott and Sime attributed the school’s new lease on life to the testimony of students and recent alumni who told DOE officials that the extensive work-study programs prepared them for life beyond high school.

“That helped sway the committee to say, “Hey, we really need to take another look to see what’s going on here,'” Kott said. “I don’t think the DOE gives CTE schools enough credit for what they engender.”

The three students said the school was their first choice because of its extensive photography and design course offerings, even though its performance on state assessments is lackluster and they must travel to the West 50th Street building from as far as Kingsbridge in the Bronx and Far Rockaway in Brooklyn. They said the school’s closure would have been a significant blow to students throughout the city who want to receive in-depth arts and technology instruction.

“This is really the only school in the state that offers four years of photography,” said Kianne Martinez, a junior. “A lot of 14-year olds who want to go into this field wouldn’t be able to do that, because most schools only offer photo in senior year, and even then it’s not traditional black and white, it’s just digital.”

Lissy Alcantara, also a junior, said she plans to study psychology and design in college, though how those two disciplines fit together is an open question for her. “I’ll promote you, I’ll promote you,” she said, turning to Aziza, who wants to study film and someday create an arts-focused youth center.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.