I got out of bed at the crack of dawn to head to the Governor's Island Ferry yesterday. I have been anxious to see the new Harbor School building. I wondered what kids who are always a little late in the morning would do with a "be there or wait an hour for a ferry" schedule. I finished the tour at 11 totally in love with the kids, staff and curriculum. As the parent of seniors, who sees college essay themes everywhere I look, I couldn't help but think of the great story these kids will tell. I dare you not to tear up when you watch this video about the school.
The students all congregate in the Ferry building and I took the opportunity to be "totally awkward" and break in on a few conversations. The vast majority of them seem to be from Brooklyn, future marine biologists and dophin trainers with aspirations of college in Florida. They don't seem to find it too difficult to make the boat (actually the 8:15 is the early one for breakfast on the island, most students take the 9am for class). There is a system of id scanning so that the school is aware of who is on the island and they can make sure that everyone has left the island in the evening. Most students are gone by the 6pm ferry and I was told that if you missed that one you were in big trouble taking the 10pm boat "with the teachers". No one seems to have had to do that. I went to the front of the ferry and determined it was the teacher section (no 8th graders in tow). I had a conversation on the ride over with the Chemistry and Marine Technology teachers. Frankly, this is a great opportunity on the tour for one on one conversations and parents should take advantage of it.
Harbor School has been around for 7 years in Bushwick Brooklyn and they are finally in their new home on the water in Governors Island. The regular high school curriculum is centered around hands on learning. In freshman year the students take "Intro to Harbor" a class that encorporates the science and social studies curriculm with field study and harbor based projects. There are also classes in marine technology, building and piloting boats, marine engineering and aquaculture, raising and studying fish and marine biology and ecology. At the end of sophomore year the students will decide whether they want to continue their studies on the marine biology or tech sides. Learning about the history of the harbor and reseeding the famous oyster beds is another opportunity for hands on learning.
The building is beautiful, bright and well equiped. The library has is fully stocked with $150,000. worth of books. The cafeteria by all accounts, serves delicious food made from fresh ingredients that the students grow in their garden. The labs and workshops are also stocked with state of the art equipment and the teaching staff is understandably thrilled and with the opportunities that the new site permits. There seems to be a large and growing opportunity for afterschool sports and programs. The students do need to learn to swim (although there is no working pool on the island as of yet) and if your grade point average is high enough, there is scuba too.
So here is the take away for me. This is an extremely special opportunity. This program is unlike any other anywhere. It is not a big school with a variety of arts, languages and APs, but for me the experience seems more than worth the more narrow focus. As a limited unscreened program the students are a random group of learners at all levels with one thing in common - they are really into this place and what goes on here and that is what makes the difference. I can't think of a single college in the country that wouldn't be anxious to give a kid from Harbor a very close look.