Even if you have a zoned neighborhood middle school, you may want to consider gifted or selective programs, unzoned schools including secondary schools that have grades 6-12, dual language programs, charter schools and arts programs that require an audition.
Gifted or selective programs
Academically successful children may apply to accelerated middle school programs. Many of these offer high school–level math or science in the 8th grade. Some gifted programs are open to children from all five boroughs, while others are limited to children living in the district or borough of the school. Many zoned middle schools offer Special Progress (SP) or honors classes. Admissions criteria vary. Your best bet is to look at the middle school directory for specifics, or on each school’s website.
Most middle school seats at the five citywide gifted schools go to continuing 5th-graders but some spots open up for newcomers. Mark Twain in Brooklyn is open citywide. Students must sign up in mid-October for auditions in two talents, choosing among a variety of academic and arts areas. Professional Performing Arts School (PPAS) in Manhattan gauges children’s artistic talent with an audition.
Hunter College High School in Manhattan is an academic powerhouse that is open citywide in 7th grade. Children who score above a certain percentage on the state math and ELA exams are eligible to take a test for entrance to Hunter. That score changes from year to year.
Even in districts where most students attend their zoned school, students have other options. These are listed in the middle school directory, and all programs for which you are eligible will be listed on the personalized application you will receive from the school guidance counselor.
Other schools such as the Institute for Collaborative Education (ICE)—have their own application and it’s up to you to reach out to the school to apply. Look in the back of the middle school directory for a listing of schools that have school-based applications.
Charter schools are tuition-free and operate independently of the city’s Department of Education. Most begin in kindergarten; some serve grades k–8, others grades k–12. Some begin in middle school and a few begin in high school. Many charter schools that begin in kindergarten do not admit new students in middle school, and those that do may have few openings. Admission is by lottery held in April. You apply online, through Common Application on the Charter School Center website, or directly to the school that interests you.
See a rundown of the different kinds of charter schools and networks in New York City on InsideTools.
Dual language programs
These programs offer instruction in two languages and are designed to make children fluent speakers, readers and writers in both. Typically, classes mix native speakers of both languages; the language of instruction alternates. Some of these programs give preference to children who live in the attendance zone, but some have room for children outside the attendance zone. Dual language programs are most common in elementary schools but if your child is fluent in another language, he may have preference at one of the city’s few dual language middle schools.
Magnets are designed to foster racial integration. They receive three years of federal or state funding for special programs (such as art, science, drama, law or even dual language) to make the school attractive to draw—like a magnet—children of different races who might not otherwise attend. Call your district office to find out if there are any magnet programs in your area’s middle school, but visit first and see if they still receive the extra teacher support magnets get, or are now “magnet” in name only.
Some middle schools have special arts programs and students must audition. These include citywide schools such as Professional Performing Arts, Mark Twain and Ballet Tech. Some district schools—such as those in District 21—require students to audition in a particular talent.