School Culture

School Culture

At Harlem Academy, striving for excellence is not a means for standing out but a way to fit in. Our teachers cultivate inquiry, innovation, discipline, and a love of learning. Our school culture emphasizes hard work and each individual’s responsibility to contribute to school, family, and community. A Harlem Academy education is rigorous, principled, and joyful. It is a love of learning in the face of challenge. It is positioning students to pursue passions, become leaders, and one day make a mark on the world.


Our focus on preparing students to maximize their potential is guided by four community pillars: initiative, integrity, compassion, and determination.  The school creed is an aspirational statement that encourages every student to continue striving for growth.  Each verse ties to one of the four pillars:


I am bold and creative.
I take opportunities to lead.
I seek help when I need it.


I am honest and reflective.
I choose to do what is right,
Even when it is hard or no one is watching.


I listen carefully.
I speak kindly.
I care for my community.


I make the most of each day.
I learn from my mistakes.
I don't give up.

The creed guides students in decision-making and serves as the foundation for a perpetual cycle of learning, reflection, and improvement. Daily practices and traditions reinforce these values. 


The Community Meeting is among Harlem Academy’s most cherished traditions. Held weekly in both the lower school and middle school, the meeting begins with a teacher’s greeting and the recitation of the School Thanksgiving:

We are thankful for friendship and good health,
For our school and our teachers,
And for the families who have given us our homes.

We are thankful for the differences that help us learn,
And the common purposes that bring us together.

We are thankful for our city, our country, and the world around us,
For a hope to be shared with all people,
And the trials which help us to know ourselves.
(Adapted from Camp Timanous, Raymond, ME)

The meeting continues with teachers formally commending the positive contributions of students who exhibited exemplary behavior or growth. A weekly message then examines an aspect of the school creed, emphasizing the habits most critical to students’ success. To close the meeting, community members shake hands, recite the creed, and share a quiet moment for reflection before a silent recessional.

Each fourth and eighth-grade student has a chance to lead a community meeting where they share a message about how the pillars and creed can be put into action in our daily lives.


Mission Driven:  Harlem Academy drives equity of opportunity for promising students, guiding them to thrive at the highest academic levels and one day make a mark on the world.  We admit students whose potential might otherwise go unrealized and provide the differentiated challenge it takes to cultivate transformational growth. Our mission guides all key decisions – in daily work, problem solving, and strategic planning.

Accountable: We set challenging and measurable goals for our students, our school, and ourselves; we assess progress, and we own the results.  We live the school pillars and creed knowing that we create a powerful lever for change when we commit to working with common purpose.

Reflective and Growing: We perpetually engage with questions that move us forward:  Why am I doing this? How can I harness my strengths? What can I improve? What can I learn from the people around me? How am I setting an example and helping others?  How are my biases impacting my effectiveness? How are we celebrating and sharing our successes?

Purpose Not Power:  We build genuine relationships among students, families, and colleagues. We believe each individual deserves agency, and we leave space for independent thinking, differentiated practice, and self-correction.  We are warm but demanding, consistently using least invasive interventions, assigning logical consequences, and connecting back to long-term goals.

Committed to Equity and Inclusion: We recognize and honor each individual’s personal and social identity. We model, teach, and offer experiences that help students develop empathy, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills to thrive in a diverse society.  We value the hard work of anti-racism and all aspects of creating a truly inclusive community, acknowledging that it starts with ourselves and extends to each aspect of our program and school community.

Building for the Long Game: We embrace the Aristotelian ethic, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” We develop skills for growth, achievement, contribution, and wellness, providing enough developmentally appropriate and meaningful “at bats” across multiple grades to foster transferable and lifelong habits.