The Van Nest Academy for Environmental Health Sciences and Technology offers lots of hands-on science, including field trips in the neighborhood. Opened in 2010, the school has quickly become very popular, with 700 applicants for fewer than 100 seats in kindergarten.
Children have 4 to 6 science classes a week and include projects about environmental issues in the community. For example, students regularly test the quality of water, soil and air to learn about pollution and its effect on illnesses like asthma.
Seventh graders catch beetles, snails, crayfish or insects in the Bronx River and learn that these creatures, called macro invertebrates, help maintain water quality by eating dead plants and animals--and that their presence is a sign of a healthy ecosystem.
Botanists, geographers and historians from organizations such as the New York Botanical Garden, the Bronx River Alliance, and the New York Historical Society visit the school to talk to children about their research.
Van Nest is housed in a bright, modern building shared with Icahn Charter School 2. Each school has its own library, rooftop playground, science labs and cafeteria. (Van Nest has two science labs.) The two schools share the gym and auditorium. While the building is beautiful, classrooms are smaller than ideal and the wide, spacious hallways seem to be wasted space. Some of the classrooms seem cramped, particularly the middle school classes with 30 children.
Principal Carol Gilligan, a former science administrator, sets an assured and friendly tone, often hugging children who rush to greet her. While there is a hands-on focus in science, Gilligan also believes that starting in 3rd grade children need to learn to read textbooks, or tough texts, as she calls them.
Like a lot of new schools, VanNest is still working out consistent classroom routines. In some classes, students are relaxed, chatty and in motion; in others they are required to have their desks neat and hands folded in preparation for the next activity. Depending on the classroom, there are various different rewards for good behavior or warning systems for bad behavior.
We watched a group of 6th graders incorporate technology into a presentation about Africa, using Power Point. We saw children making maps and booklets in geography. Teachers try to foster a joy of reading by allowing children to choose their own books, especially for the required two hours per week of outside reading, according to an English teacher.
Teachers have adopted the EnVision Math program because they like the fact that it has three levels of difficulty. Eighth graders may take algebra, and some attend classes on Saturday to prepare for the Regents exam. Older students take a bus to visit prospective high schools and representatives, even from the citys specialized high schools, visit Van Nest.
After school offerings include health, green team, social skills, step, basketball, academics, student government and chess. Keyboard, recorders and guitars are available and there are plans for a band once 5th grade is in place. Eighth graders learn ballroom dance.
Special education: There are two self-contained classrooms, serving twelve children with two adults. These classes travel between two rooms during the day: math and science lessons are in one room; English Language Arts and Social Studies lessons are in another. Its better for focus and keeping them interested, said a special education teacher. There are two Integrated co-Teaching classes in the middle school, with a mix of general and special education children, and two teachers, one of whom is trained in special education.
Admissions:Students must be zoned for PS/MS 83, PS 105 and PS 108 in order to apply and be considered in the lottery. Dont try to lie about your address: the school checks. (Lydie Raschka, January 2013)
The Van Nest Academy is a community of HEROES* and life-long learners who work together to develop our students into exemplary citizens, positively impacting our society for a brighter future…...globally, nationally, locally and personally.
*H-helping others E-engaging in learning R-respecting all people and property O-organized E-everyday responsible S- safe, first and always