Volume 74, Number 22 | September 29 - October 5 , 2004

Villager photos by Jennifer Weisbord

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein shook hands with Vishakha Desai, president of the Asia Society. In between them is Hoa Tu, co-director of the school.

New Henry St. school has students thinking globally

By Divya Watal

A new school on the Lower East Side, promising to look at education through an international lens, opened its doors last week to an eager batch of middle and high school students.

The Henry Street School for International Studies was started by the Asia Society in partnership with New York City’s small schools initiative and with funding support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Asia Society plans to open nine more schools across the U.S. in urban areas including Los Angeles and Charlotte, N.C.

“We want to change the U.S. education system. That’s our big goal,” said Vishakha Desai, president of the Asia Society.

The Henry Street School will offer courses in Chinese and Spanish and plans to add other languages in future years.

In addition, students will take a combination of world literature; history and cultures of Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East; world geography; global science; international economics; music and arts from different world regions; and project-based elective courses such as human rights and international law; world religions; comparative government; and global health and environmental challenges.

“It’s important in the 21st century to focus our children’s education on an increasingly global environment,” New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the school on Wednesday.

Teachers at the Henry Street School hope that learning about international issues, cultures, history and languages will equip students to explore careers and opportunities in a global society.

Students will use their skills to become “internationally literate.” Teachers will guide them with questions such as: “How do cultures of ancient civilizations influence life in modern times?” “What are the origins of disparities between wealthy and poor nations?” “What is America’s role in the world after 9/11?”

“I’m excited about this school,” said Emad Uddin, whose daughter, Bipasha, is in ninth grade. “It’s a good way for my daughter to learn about Asian culture. She picked up Chinese the first day of school! I’m from Bangladesh originally, and I don’t even know much about India. Now my daughter’s learning Chinese. I’m definitely excited about it.”

Maxine Carter, another parent and a volunteer at the school, acknowledged the need for a more global education. “My son would ask me, ‘Mom, what are people like in Africa? How do people live in Australia and India?’ Children today need to have a greater understanding of the world, a greater knowledge of cultures and languages.”

The school prides itself for being small in addition to being international. Teachers have initiated a special program to encourage open dialogue among students and faculty. They hold single-sex advisories for each grade, where girls and boys can discuss issues, problems and concerns in separate spaces.

“It helps kids feel at home,” said Kara Imm, a seventh grade math teacher at the school. “They really appreciate having space just for girls or just for boys. We cover issues that don’t get covered during school hours. They can trust us, and it makes them feel safe.”

The linguistic and cultural diversity of the families and of the surrounding Lower East Side community is an asset, the school says, that it plans to draw upon.

For instance, teachers will tailor assignments in social studies classes to use parents’ and community members’ knowledge and perspectives. Parents and community members will be frequent guest speakers. Teachers will invite them to join daily school activities such as lunch-time language discussion tables, where they can help teachers and students practice language skills while sharing a meal.

Courtney Allison and Hoa Tu, the school’s co-directors, are both fellows in the New Leaders for New Schools program, which emphasizes innovation and excellence in creating new schools. Before they joined the Henry Street School, they were principal interns in Community School District 1 on the Lower East Side.

The school has a capacity of 525 students. Although it will eventually include grades 6-12, in this, its inaugural year, it will only cater to sixth, seventh, and ninth grade students. The facilities are still in an embryonic state. The school, at 220 Henry St., at the corner of Clinton St., shares a building with J.H.S. 56, occupying the ground floor.

Aria Carlston, a ninth grade student, aptly summed up the theme of her new school in her speech at the opening ceremony when she said: “You don’t have to travel abroad to get a flavor of the world. You can get it right here in the five boroughs. At the Henry Street School for International Studies, we learn to act locally but think globally.”

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