New York

The Summer Arts Institute at Stuyvesant High School

Second in a series on free summer opportunities for New York City students. Read the first post about the Manhattan School of Music Summer Music Camp.

Vocal music students practicing at SAI.
Vocal music students practicing at SAI.

On a recent July morning, in a classroom at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, master vocal music teacher Jayne Skoog asked her students to pause. “Put your hand here for a minute,” she instructed them, placing her hand on her ribcage. “Put your hand right here.” The students placed their hands over their own chests, studying how air should move in and out of their lungs as they sing.

Down the hall, Joe Bartolozzi was teaching an advanced music theory class, animatedly illustrating a point about tension and release with a joke about a pianist playing “Amazing Grace” and stopping just before the final, resolving chord. Bartolozzi let his students feel that tension as he finished the story – then played the chord, allowing everyone in the room to experience the release firsthand.

Meanwhile, upstairs, students were scattered around teacher Jan Juracek’s photography lab. Two worked together at a computer, using Photoshop to merge a student’s self-portrait with a photograph of the New York City skyline. Juracek sat nearby, helping another student edit a digital photo. A small group sat sprawled at student desks, flipping through photography books and their own portfolios. On the floor, students assembled what appeared to be a poster-sized contact sheet: they explained that it’s a collaborative piece they are creating, bringing together each student’s self-portrait on the theme “THE ARTS: A Lens to the City.”

This theme is shared by the seven studios of the Summer Arts Institute, a free, four-week intensive arts program for New York City public school students entering grades 8-12. In addition to vocal music and photography, the studio programs include instrumental music, dance, drama, visual art, and film.

The approximately 260 students at the Institute study their chosen art form for five hours a day, with an hour-long break at lunchtime. A typical day includes visits from professional artists, trips to local cultural institutions – one highlight this year was a whole-institute trip to see the American Ballet Theatre’s performance of Giselle – studio work, and peer critiques.

Special events include a weekly “SAI Cafe” where students can perform or display works-in-progress, as well as workshops for parents and students on next steps in their education or career. Middle school workshops focus on the process of applying to arts high schools, while high school workshops include panelists from colleges, universities, and conservatory programs.

The Summer Arts Institute was started in 2002, Joan Finkelstein, the DOE’s Director of Dance Programs said. “It was a response to 9/11 and the strong reactions of lower Manhattan students, to give them an intensive arts experience, the opportunity to fully express themselves,” she said.

Juracek, who has been teaching photography at SAI since 2002, said she enjoys teaching at the Institute because of the highly motivated students. In addition, she said, teachers don’t have to worry about having enough supplies or trying to fit art classes into a prescribed lesson format, frustrations they may face during the regular school year. “You have the freedom of really teaching art like you should teach it,” she said.

The students are chosen through an application process that begins in January. Applications include a teacher recommendation and a short essay; auditions are held in April. Finkelstein said that each studio weights the various aspects of the application differently, some emphasizing skill level while others look for students most passionate or interested in the medium.

Visual arts student at SAI.
Visual arts student at SAI.

“These students are really professional,” said Christine Mendoza, a teaching artist from the Tribeca Film Institute who works with the students in the film studio. “They look not only to teachers but to each other for feedback.”

Other teachers agreed, pointing to the Institute’s intensive focus on technical skills in addition to creative expression. Middle school visual arts students were learning a trace-and-transfer drawing technique while also learning about perspective; film students rotate through the different roles on a film crew; dancers create original choreography and study classical ballet technique.

“What they are doing is making points of theory concrete for the kids,” Finkelstein said.

Students agreed the program is quite rigorous. John Walsh, who will start his freshman year at LaGuardia High School of Music & Arts and Performing Arts this fall, believes that he will have an advantage thanks to his vocal music program at the Institute. “I’ll have more knowledge of theory of music than most of the kids coming in.”

“I’m going to be more into photography than I was because now I know what I’m doing,” said Michelle Gavora, a rising 12th grader at Francis Lewis High School. “It’s an awesome program.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”