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Educational Philosophy

Harlem Academy inspires excellence with a rigorous curriculum wrapped in a joyful and ethical school culture. We foster confidence by setting up real challenges for all our students, nurturing their talents, and supporting them to meet their goals. We work with focus and determination but take time to celebrate each other’s achievements and share in life’s special moments.

Skill development is the foundation of a Harlem Academy education. We believe that core academic skills (reading, writing, and mathematical reasoning) and strong character habits (initiative, integrity, compassion, and determination) are the key ingredients students need for success at top secondary schools and as contributing members of the community. To build these skills, our approach combines depth, practice, challenge, and engagement in every curricular area.

Depth

We focus on fewer topics so that students can immerse themselves in the material they are studying and practice the skills needed to excel.  A depth-over-breadth approach positions students to not only remember what they have learned, but also to reach a level of understanding and confidence that allows them to grapple with the larger questions of each discipline.

Snapshots:

  • Lower school art: Students delve deeply into three Harlem-based artists each year, leaving time to exploring their influences, impact, and techniques. 
  • U.S. history: Students spend two years focusing on six transformational events, using primary source analysis to contextualize these events and understand their impact on our nation’s trajectory.
  • Vocabulary: We focus on just five words per week so that students can engage in the critical thinking needed to recognize the nuances of our language and retain what they have studied.

Practice

Philosopher Will Durant summarized the ethics of Aristotle by saying: “We are what we repeatedly do; Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.”  Our goal is to help students develop transferable and lifelong habits for maximized academic performance and contribution to their community. To do this, we ensure students get both formal and less structured practice, with common language across disciplines and grades wherever possible. We figure out the skills that matter the most (e.g. close reading, scientific thinking, growth mindset) and ensure that our program allows for students to get as many “at bats” as they need to internalize them as habits.

Snapshots:

  • School creed & baseline expectations: Our school creed and baseline expectations provide common language for overarching values and behavior expectations that will help students to maximize learning. This language is applied across grade levels, used by all team members, and shared with parents to provide plenty of opportunities for consistent practice.
  • Middle school English: Students take a performance-driven approach to Shakespeare, emerging after three years with the confidence and skill needed to tackle any challenging text. 
  • Advisory: Each week students engage in formal reflection and goal setting, positioning them with enough practice with this critical skill to form a lifelong habit.

Challenge

We believe that growth only happens when students are given real challenge that can be overcome with sustained effort. For us, begins with high standards and then continues with differentiation so that each student is challenged at his or her level.

Snapshots:

  • Human biology: Columbia University neuroscientists lead an eight-week unit on the nervous system, culminating in a dissection that connects the brain’s form with its function.
  • Advisory: Each year, students spend three days pushing beyond their comfort zones in a wilderness setting. They are challenged to overcome personal and group obstacles – discovering that with determination and practice, they can accomplish anything.
  • Math: To ensure every student is both stimulated and supported, we offer weekly labs for advanced students to explore challenging word problems, while students in need of remediation meet in a small group for differentiated support from the math teacher.  In addition, an independent math block allows each student to progress at his or her own speed using an innovative, online program called Khan Academy.

Engagement

In every class, we foster intellectual curiosity by incorporating experiential opportunities and connecting classroom learning to real-life applications. We feed students’ motivation to learn by focusing on content that is culturally relevant, connected to our neighborhoods, and developmentally aligned with their interests as elementary and middle school students. 

Snapshots:

  • Applied science: Our eighth-grade year includes units on emergency medicine, engineering, and architecture – including a five-week collaboration with professional architects, sparking genuine interest in the concepts and methods that underlie these fields.
  • English: Poets visit our classrooms for six weeks to guide students as they write, revise, and perform original works. 
  • Advisory: We organize a speaker series each year highlighting successful individuals who have taken unlikely paths. After a brief introduction by the speaker, students guide the discussion through their own questions and insights.