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.”

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.