By Mar Fitzgerald
On June 26th the students of MS 297 will mark the close of the first year in their forever home at 75 Morton Street. Due to construction delays, the inaugural class of 160 sixth-graders spent their first year of middle school co-located with the Clinton School for Writers and Artists on 15th Street.
The school, named for its address of 75 Morton, currently houses 561 sixth and seventh grade students, and will welcome 300 new students in September, when the seventh grade moves up and becomes the school’s first eighth grade.
75 Morton’s modern design distinguishes it from the majority of NYC public schools. Upon entering the year-old building, one is struck by the feeling of grandeur created by the double-height ceilings “The exposure to the light is inspiring,” says parent Heather Campbell. In addition to several classrooms, it also has dedicated spaces for art, dance, science and an outdoor play yard. A green roof was made possible by funding from Corey Johnson’s office. The “Gymatorium,” a modular, combined sports and gathering space, serves the soccer, track and cheerleading teams, as well as assemblies, performances and forums. There is a cafeteria, but students can also enjoy the privilege of “out-lunch” and dine outside of the school.
Thanks to a generous donation from Google, students have use of 475 laptops as well as computer science workshops to hone their tech skills. During a recent partnership with I2 Learning, a program developed out of MIT, students participated in a weeklong collaborative immersion into STEM courses where they worked in teams to solve real-world problems using critical thinking and experimentation.
In addition to the school’s academic, music and art curriculum is a philosophy focused on community and the overall well-being of the children that attend. Students at 75 Morton begin each day in small groups called Advisories. These morning sessions act as a home base for the students, giving them the opportunity to discuss their social, academic and emotional triumphs and concerns amongst their peers.
This ideology extends to the mind-body connection. Mindfulness coach Colin Lieu, known as the Multitasking Yogi according to his website, collaborates with other staff members to help meet the specific needs of each student. He trains students, staff and parents in techniques meant to increase relaxation and focus using movement, yoga, meditation and breathing exercises intended to connect them to themselves and their environment. “He is an incredible resource for both proactively and reactively helping our kids look at their emotions,” says Campbell.
There is a tremendous effort to engage families above and beyond the usual drop-off/pick-up interactions. The PTA hosts regular meetings to keep parents informed, and community dinners—where no “school-talk” is permitted,—giving them the chance to get to know each other. Families also enjoy events and fundraisers like the recent auction party, movie nights, a roller-disco and other seasonal happenings.
75 Morton utilizes a practice called Mastery-based Grading. This system is meant to give kids a better understanding of their work, how it is assessed, and allows them multiple opportunities to improve grades. This cooperative approach to learning is affirmed through the school’s offering of Student-Led-Conferences, in lieu of the traditional 10-minute parent/teacher conference. During these sessions, students are present to share their work with their parents and advisor on their own terms.
Students are admitted to 75 Morton, first, according to their residential zone of District 2. Once the zoned obligation is satisfied, a limited number of seats are available for children who reside outside of the district. These students undergo a highly competitive screening process based on mathematical rubric based on grades, behavior, attendance, lateness and state test scores. DOE Chancellor Richard Carranza sees this ranking system as a detriment in New York City’s public school system. “Why are we screening kids in a public school system? That is, to me, antithetical to what I think we all want for our kids,” said Carranza at a Bronx press conference.
According to the Inside Schools website, over half of Morton’s student body is White, with 23% Hispanic and 9% Black and Asian respectively, and 27% eligible for free or reduced lunch. While these statistics are not groundbreaking, they do show 75 Morton to be considerably more diverse than other schools in the immediate area.