Feature stories

Ahead of the game

At this Queens HS, it’s not IF you’re going to college, but WHERE

Miller Photography

At the Queens School of Inquiry, teachers serve as their students’ adjunct professors in classes at Queens College. “That allows me to expand beyond teaching art appreciation and go more deeply into technique,” says art teacher Yeon Ji Park.

“It’s like a family.” “You get a head start in life.” “You can talk to the teachers about any concern.” Those are a few of the accolades coming from students who relish the campus-like atmosphere.

Smaller classes, such as Steven Carpenter’s engineering class, mean more individ Miller Photography

Smaller classes, such as Steven Carpenter’s engineering class, mean more individual attention at this Early College Initiative school, where students can earn up to 64 tuition-free credits.

Vincent, a senior at the Queens School of Inquiry who plays lead in the heavy metal band FOG, has shoulder-length hair, wears multizippered black leather, has 45 college credits and is going to Queens College in the fall.

His classmate Louie, who sports short hair and wears a plain T-shirt, has a full scholarship to Wagner College, where he will major in theology.

Nicole will be majoring in psychology at Brooklyn College. Kristie, who plans to major in early childhood development and elementary education, has been accepted at both Hofstra University and Queens College.

Of the 65 students in the first graduating class of this Early College Initiative school in Flushing, at least 62 will graduate by August and have applied to college, according to Principal Meredith Inbal.

“So far 80 percent have been accepted into college and intend to go,” says Inbal, who works in a large, open main office alongside the secretaries, near a huge table where a dozen kids are chatting and studying in their free time.

In conjunction with Queens College and the City University of New York and with startup money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, this grade 6–12 school has created an environment that prepares kids to earn up to 64 tuition-free credits at Queens College while earning their high school diplomas. Many have the option of entering Queens College or another CUNY college as transfer students.

“The Queens campus is our second home,” says senior Emmy.

Students include high-performing as well as struggling ones, special education students and English language learners who have come to the school through an application process that gives priority to students in the zoned area. Incoming 6th-graders are chosen by lottery and the school’s rising 8th-graders apply through the normal high-school admissions process.

The struggling students who have not yet applied to college will continue to get help at this small school, where everyone knows your name, classes are small and students are exposed to college as early as 6th grade.

Sixth-graders go on field trips to Queens College. In the 7th and 8th grades, students spend two weeks at the college taking non-credit classes with professors. Ninth-graders take a limited number of credit-bearing college classes, which increases until, as seniors, the majority of their schedule consists of college coursework at the campus and high school. Teachers work with the students in both environments and are vetted by the college to serve as adjunct professors in that context.

Classes focus on inquiry-based learning, says Chapter Leader Ross Herskovits, which is a student-centered, teacher-guided approach that encourages real-world investigation.

“The collaboration between students, teachers and staff makes this an excellent environment for all of us,” says Herskovits, who teaches social studies.

“It’s relaxed and comfortable here,” says science teacher Hema Bhramdat, “and the kids are so excited about college. They ask so many good questions about choosing a major. They’re already thinking about what they want to do with their lives.”

Steve Cavusoglu teaches several subjects to 11th- and 12th-grade special education students.

“They’re immersed in college history classes and are getting credits,” Cavusoglu says. “The whole environment here is geared toward building skills, such as researching and note taking, to get students prepared for college. We all instill this in them; we’re all on the same page.”

In effect, the school has created the perfect bridge between childhood and adulthood that is a kind of paradise for teenagers.

Preserving that paradise is the focus of teachers and administrators as the foundation money phases out.

The kids, meanwhile, are focused on their futures.

They talk about life, sitting on the floor of the hall. Some boys are playing guitars. Other kids are playing “Scarborough Fair” on their recorders.

At the Queens School of Inquiry, it’s already feeling like college.

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