Though years away from submitting college applications, the sixth and seventh graders at the Columbia Secondary School can get a taste of the University's trademark education.
Last year, the Columbia Secondary School opened on the upper floors of P.S. 125 to teach math, science, and engineering to students living north of 96th Street. The goal of the School is to teach students not only basic science and technology skills, but also how to work in groups and gain an appreciation of the world around them, according to principal Jose Maldonado.
Launched by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, University President Lee Bollinger, and Chancellor of Public Schools Joel Klein, Columbia says the school is part of its attempt to contribute to the surrounding neighborhoods. According to Maldonado, the scientific, technological, and mathematical focus was established because of the need to promote careers in these fields.
The school opened with a sixth grade class of 100 students, and each year a new grade will be added through an intensive application process with a 10 percent acceptance rate, until the school encompasses grades six through 12. Eventually, Maldonado said, officials hope to take advantage of University facilities by having 11th and 12th grade students take classes at Columbia.
Columbia gave the school a start-up grant of $150,000, and provides it with $100,000 annually as well as total access to University facilities. Columbia is also donating land for a new building on 125th Street and Broadway once that part of the Manhattanville expansion is completed. The new building will be larger than the current facility, which the school shares with P.S. 125, and will allow the school to expand its student body.
The school is also connected to Columbia on a more personal level, as 30 percent of its work force consists of Columbia students and alumni. Some tutors are from the Law and Business schools, and many instructors are from Teachers College.
The school is based on an intense core curriculum in math, science, and technology and projects are designed to engage students.
"Here I actually get to do something that will teach me, something that will stimulate me," said sixth-grader Ethan Glover-Bailey, who proceeded to talk about his love for the American Museum of Natural History and his fascination with the chemistry behind global warming.
The goal of the engineering program is to allow every student to achieve technical literacy, and to help them develop cooperative skills, said Andrew Stillman, associate director of technology and information systems and professor of engineering.
"In addition to teaching them the technical side of applied math and science, we are also giving them the psychosocial skills it takes to work successfully in a team," he said.
But students are not instructed exclusively in the sciences. "We have what is perhaps the most diverse creative arts curriculum in the city," Maldonado said.
The 200 sixth- and seventh-graders are broken into small groups for three hours every Friday afternoon to pursue interests from knitting and cooking to the study of ancient Egypt.
In addition to its academic diversity, the school boasts a varied student population. It is the only STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) school in New York City in which ethnic minorities are the majority, and the student body also ranges widely in terms of socioeconomic standing.
"This is the only place where the child of a Columbia professor can mix with the child of a low-income single Hispanic woman," Maldonado said.