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Edward R. Murrow High School

While some successful schools focus on structure and routine, Edward R. Murrow High School emphasizes student prerogative and individual flexibility. One of this New York City school’s more unique aspects is the Murrow Independent Learning Experience program, which invites academically ambitious students to take responsibility for their own learning. Students at Murrow enjoy great autonomy in how they manage their time in school. Optional Time Activities, or OPTAs, replace the conventional lunch or study hall periods, and can be used by students to eat, study, socialize or participate in extracurricular activities. “It forces them to take responsibility for themselves,” says Christina Ortiz, who teaches ninth-grade social studies. “When our kids walk onto a college campus, they’re totally prepared.”

Murrow also offers a broad spectrum of majors, but does not restrict students to any one; rather, they can take courses across disciplines. The school operates on four 10-week cycles instead of the two traditional semesters. It has “bands” instead of “periods,” and classes meet only four times a week. Also, there are no bells to convene and dismiss each class.

Murrow has acclaimed theater and chess programs. Beyond acting, students work behind the scenes creating costumes and learning the lighting and technical aspects of production. They also can participate in any of the more than 40 clubs—break dancing and anime, among others—at the school. Club membership is not limited and students can join as many as they wish, which adds to the sense of community in the building, Ortiz says. While Murrow does not offer sports teams, it fields a competitive We the People team, whose members study the U.S. Constitution, and a renowned chess team. In fact, Kings of New York: A Year Among the Geeks, Oddballs, and Geniuses Who Make Up America’s Top High School Chess Team was recently published about Murrow’s chess team, and a similarly inspired film is in preproduction.

Murrow’s unique experiment in rethinking the conventional administrative role and empowering students to take charge of their own academic lives has paid off. The school is now one of the most sought-after in the city.


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