school choice

Achievements To Celebrate

Date Posted:  Monday, September 21, 2020

Harlem Academy's students, families, and teachers have shown incredible determination during these challenging times – and the results speak for themselves.   

There were many more points of pride for us this past year, and we're eager to share them with you. Please read our progress report to learn more about what we have accomplished.
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Tags:  college secondary school school choice

Next Stop, Horace Mann

Date Posted:  Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Eighth grader Jah’si could barely contain his excitement as he dialed the number. “Mom, I was accepted!” he screamed into the phone. On the other end, his mother, Shanique Johnson, started to cry. She’d just received the same email with news of his acceptance and scholarship to Horace Mann.

Ms. Johnson always knew that her son had the talent and determination to succeed. “He just needed to be challenged,” she says. “Harlem Academy was invested in him, and because of that I saw real growth.”

Jah’si remembers struggling with writing when he first came to Harlem Academy in fourth grade. “Over time, I began to enjoy writing because of the selection of books, the lessons, and the teachers. They really know how to captivate you and make you push yourself,” he shared.  

Now, with ninth grade around the corner, Jah’si is ready for the next challenge. “The academics at Horace Mann are rigorous, but so is the curriculum at Harlem Academy,” he says. “I'm ready for it!”

Click to see our full secondary school placement list, which this year includes Friends Seminary, Miss Porter’s, Riverdale, and Spence.

Thank you to Columbia Community Service and Ronald McDonald House Charities for supporting our secondary school placement program.

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Tags:  secondary school school choice middle school

Our Place in the Education Landscape

Date Posted:  Friday, May 5, 2017

In 90% of the school districts that Harlem Academy serves, no kindergartner scored high enough in 2016 to be eligible for the citywide gifted and talented programs.  These opportunities are available only to students already testing above the 97th percentile.

Promising children from low-income communities don’t have the resources or preparation to compete for these spots, and the programs are dominated by children from more affluent communities.

At the same time, local public and charter schools in these communities must focus on the 80% of students not meeting basic proficiency. They have few resources left to help high-potential students thrive.

The result is that children in low-income communities rarely get to realize their personal and academic potential:                                     

  • By first grade, low-income children are only half as likely to be high achievers as their more affluent peers.
  • By fifth grade, only 56% of these high achievers maintain this status in reading.
  • During high school, they drop out or do not graduate on time at twice the rate of their higher income peers.
  • By college, only 14% of freshmen at the nation’s top 160 colleges come from the bottom half of the income distribution.

These are the students that Harlem Academy serves. Most enter with standardized test scores in the 70th-85th percentile.  On average, they improve 11 percentile points during their first year alone at Harlem Academy.  Last year’s graduates gained a cumulative 24 points on average from when they entered the school.

Instruction emphasizes core skills in reading, writing, and critical thinking.

Our goal is to prepare students to thrive and compete in secondary school, college and beyond.  All of them move on to strong college-prep programs, and most receive full scholarships – averaging nearly $43,000 per year – to independent schools like Chapin, Hotchkiss, Lawrenceville, Riverdale, and more. 

Our earliest classes are now moving on to college.  100% have graduated high school on time (compared to 56% of their community peers) and almost all are enrolled at four-year colleges.

Only as a private school can we succeed at this.  We can identify and admit promising, low-income children who might otherwise be left behind. We can develop a program that engages and inspires them, building a love of learning with the skills and habits they need for success. We can prepare them to compete at the highest academic levels with their peers from more affluent communities. 

Harlem Academy is a pathway to realizing potential – academically, personally, and as contributing members of their communities.  We look forward to seeing how our graduates make a mark on the world.


Tags:  school choice

Driving Double-Digit Growth

Date Posted:  Thursday, April 13, 2017

Year after year, Harlem Academy students improve their performance on standardized tests. Most notably, scores jump an average of 11 points after a student’s first year at HA. We took a closer look at the second-grade class to see how this growth was accomplished during their first year at Harlem Academy.

Harlem Academy students.“Tell me about your favorite book that you’ve read this year,” asks Head of School Vinny Dotoli.  Two students are engaging with him and a visitor to the school.  They are the classroom greeters for the second grade this week, and both are eager to answer.

“I liked the Mercy Watson books,” says one, “because they show initiative and determination. They never give up.”  The other says, “Sonia Sotomayor’s biography was my favorite because she shows compassion and cares for her community.”

These are seven-year-olds – bright, engaged, confident, and performing above their grade level.  But this wasn’t always the case.  When these students and their classmates started at Harlem Academy, most were testing in the 75th-85th percentile on nationally standardized tests – too high to be challenged by local charter and public schools, but also too low to gain access to the citywide gifted and talented programs.  Without the options available to their peers in more affluent communities, their potential was going unrealized. 

By the end of first grade, their scores had jumped an average of 11 percentile points.

First-grade teacher Ashley Barnett remembers this class. “These are bright kids,” she says, “but often they haven’t been pushed before. Our curriculum challenges them and builds their core academic skills.”

She remembers one student who exemplified this determination. “Sophie started out really behind in first grade. She didn’t know as many words by sight, had to sound more out, didn’t know how to spell. But she put in extra effort and focused on her work. She and her parents looked for extra resources. As the year progressed, we saw tremendous growth. By the end of October, she was able to identify 80 out of 100 sight words. By December she was up to at least 95 out of 100.”

Sophie’s parents realized that she was not being challenged at her previous school.  “Her preschool and kindergarten didn’t push her hard enough,” says her father. “We knew that she was smart; she just needed some extra help to catch up. Harlem Academy is helping her to realize her full potential. She quotes the school creed to our family sometimes. Her favorite line is ‘I don’t give up.’”Performance infographic.

Sophie continued to thrive throughout first grade, ending the year reading at a third-grade level. In fact, the whole class grew considerably, improving an average of 1.5 years in reading levels, with some ending first grade reading at a fourth-grade level.

From the earliest ages, Harlem Academy builds strong, self-directed learners.  When students get blocked, teachers ask what they’ve tried and what they will try next.  The goal is to nurture their determination and confidence.

“The goal at HA is to always set the bar a little bit higher,” explains Mr. Dotoli. “We don’t just stamp excellence and accept the status quo. We actively encourage students to push themselves every day.”

Second-grade teacher Aja Hanna says, “We try different strategies for different kids. We give them the freedom to learn how they learn best.”

“Some of them ask for more reading books,” adds Ms. Barnett.  “Some want more math challenges or writing practice. And we help them move that forward.”

The teachers credit this success to Harlem Academy’s holistic approach to education. “We want them to love learning,” says Ms. Barnett.  “We focus on more than just teaching reading and math skills. We encourage them to try different approaches and find the right path for them.  We want to give them guidelines and skills they’ll use throughout their lives. That’s the joy of teaching.”

First-grade teacher Angela Bailey sums it up best. “At 6 p.m. our students ask their parents to wait outside because they’re not ready to leave school yet. It’s a great place to be.”

Tags:  lower school school choice

Why is Harlem Academy a Private School?

Date Posted:  Friday, January 9, 2015

One of the questions we receive most often from prospective supporters and parents is why are we a private school and not a charter school?

The short answer is that only as a private school does Harlem Academy have the flexibility to achieve its mission. We identify talented children and provide them with the advanced academics and character development they need to catch up with their peers from more affluent communities.

Below is an in depth look at why we set Harlem Academy up as a private school for students of all economic backgrounds, and how we keep that model viable.

middle school student reading

Why focus on high-potential children?

High-potential students from underserved communities fall through the cracks of our current system. Only 9% of freshmen at top universities come from the bottom half of the U.S. income distribution. High-potential students from low-income families drop out of high school or do not graduate on time at twice the rate of their peers from more affluent communities. Talent and hard work should be a pathway to success. We know that education is the key to unlocking this, but without the right academic preparation and skills these opportunities too often remain out of reach.

Why can’t charter schools serve these high-potential students?

Charter schools must admit students by random lottery and teach students of all academic abilities. The No Child Left Behind Act requires all charter and public schools to pull low-achieving students up to proficiency or face severe penalties. Since this mandate includes the vast majority of students in Harlem, it leaves limited attention and resources for students with high potential.

What about public school gifted and talented programs?

Students must already be scoring above the 90th percentile to qualify for admission to any of these programs, and the best programs require scores at the 97-99th percentile. Low-income students often lack the resources necessary to achieve this, so students from more affluent neighborhoods dominate placements in these programs.

middle school girl writing on board

What is different about Harlem Academy?

As an independent or private school (the two terms are essentially synonymous), we have the flexibility to develop curriculum, admit students, and hire teachers based solely on our mission to support high-potential students from underserved communities. Our average student enters with test scores around the 75th percentile and gains more than 16 points during their first year at Harlem Academy.

Where do our graduates end up?

Our graduates go on to outstanding secondary schools, including Chapin, Spence, Riverdale, Hotchkiss, and Peddie. The first three graduating classes earned more than $890,000 in annual scholarships. Furthermore, 80% of the schools that enrolled one of our graduates have offered scholarships to additional Harlem Academy students because our kids are prepared to do the work at the highest levels and contribute to their school community.

How is Harlem Academy funded?

85% of our revenue comes from donations, because – unlike most New York City private schools – tuition payments cover just 15% of the school’s expenses. While every family contributes something, 97% of students require significant financial aid. And, unlike public and charter schools, Harlem Academy receives almost no government funding to support the school’s operations. We are grateful to our community of supporters for making this transformational opportunity possible.

Tags:  school choice

Why do Families Choose Harlem Academy?

Date Posted:  Monday, March 7, 2016

A choice like no other in this community

HA students“I had my child in five schools before we found Harlem Academy. None of them were pushing my son to grow. The situation in my district, it was just sad.” - Fifth grade parent

All New York City parents know the stress of finding the right school for their children. In Harlem, the South Bronx, and Washington Heights, however, the challenge is even greater. More than 80% of local students are failing, and local public and charter schools must focus on moving those students to basic proficiency. City-wide gifted and talented programs take only students who already test in the top 1-2%. Private schools are out of reach and far away.

We spoke with current families about their experiences finding a school for their child, and what made Harlem Academy the right choice for their family. Their feedback highlights how the school meets the needs of high-performing students from low-income communities.

Rigorous, engaging academics for high-potential students

“I live in the Bronx. When I compared what Harlem Academy has to offer, it is way above what I could find in my area. The public and charter schools are not prepared for a student like mine, who reads above his grade level. At Harlem Academy, the curriculum is designed to be more challenging.” – Fourth grade parent

As an independent school, Harlem Academy has the flexibility to admit bright, motivated students and develop curriculum to help them grow. Along with a rigorous fast-paced program, we help them build skills and habits that position them for success. Harlem Academy serves communities where less than 20% of students achieve at grade level, and yet by graduation more than half of our students score in the top 10% in the nation for reading, math, or both. Sixty percent of our graduates matriculate to independent day and boarding schools on full-need scholarship. 

A nurturing community 

Students work with teacher“When there are 30-something kids in one classroom – like at my son’s last school in the Bronx – the teacher doesn’t have the patience or the time to dedicate attention to each student. At Harlem Academy, they have time for him. He is comfortable with his teachers. They know him.” – Sixth grade parent

“I always thought I was going to avoid private schools for my young sons. I didn’t want them to be the only boys of color in their class at such a young age. I wanted them to grow up loving who they are. Then I found Harlem Academy. It’s a challenging private school, and it’s a nurturing academic space for children of color. It’s a unique quality and it’s why I love this school.” – Third grade parent

We value a student’s potential and provide a holistic approach to their growth. Our school culture is anchored by four core pillars (initiative, integrity, compassion, and determination) and is expressed in our School Creed that begins with “I am bold and creative,” and ends with “I don’t give up.” From weekly community meetings to reflection and goal setting, we build this credo as a core value, empowering students to delve into who they are and how they can fully achieve their potential.

Access and affordability

“Harlem Academy does not discriminate against people for their economic condition, or their race, or religion. Children have to demonstrate that they are qualified, but everybody can try. If you don’t have the money, they help you. More children in New York City need this kind of opportunity to get the kind of education my child gets at Harlem Academy.” – Sixth grade parent

Unlike most private schools, Harlem Academy’s mission is to provide this extraordinary academic program to qualified students regardless of their family’s economic circumstances. Each family pays something, but tuition is set on a sliding scale based on a family’s household income and expenses. We commit a full-need scholarship to every student, every year, and we never turn families away for financial reasons. 


Tags:  family partnership school choice
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