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About our School

Our students tell the story of HSC in their own words:
Our history: 

High School in the Community was founded in 1970 as a teacher-run school and was the first small school option for New Haven’s high school students.
From “The Right Stuff About a High School,” an article published in the New York Times in 1996:
Matt Borenstein, Ms. Wolf and some other teachers felt another approach would be better, and in 1970 they opened their ”high school without walls” with 150 students in a former auto parts store. The following year, a second unit started in space in a girdle factory. They were later combined in a community hall of a public housing project.

When its Federal grants ran out, High School in the Community settled into an abandoned elementary school built in 1888, where it stayed for 20 years. The building was decrepit, but with poverty came the freedom to experiment.

Rather than dividing the school day into seven 45-minute periods with five classes, there were four 90-minute periods. Teachers and students had fewer courses each day, but spent much more time in them.

Mr. Borenstein noted that no one chooses to learn five things for short periods each day, so why not teach the way people really learn? ”Now they call it ‘intensive learning.’ We didn’t know there was a name for it when we started it,” he said.

Courses were commonly combined across disciplines, as well, taught by pairs of teachers working as a team, which reflects the way real life problems require knowledge of multiple skills or subjects. Social development and career orientation, which have lately become fashionable in high schools, were standard at High School in the Community 20 years ago.

Most of all, the hallmark of its educational philosophy was a democratic organization. As close as possible students are admitted to maintain a balance of one third each white, black and Hispanic, half male and half female, but otherwise by lottery with no advantage for higher levels of ability. As a result, the school is not a collection of angels or geniuses like some other magnet schools that ”skim the cream.”

A State Department of Education profile for 1993, when its students were almost exclusively from New Haven, showed its dropout rate and percentage of students who admitted using tobacco, alcohol or drugs were higher, and average test scores lower, than the state averages.

But the profile also showed significantly higher test scores than at any other New Haven high school. The scores and statistics were also superior to many suburban high schools.

It was the students, however, who provided the school’s strongest endorsement. What students stressed most was how they appreciated their teachers’ personal attention.
Our School Today
HSC continues to be an innovative and vibrant learning community. Through a multi-disciplinary project based approach that values diverse perspectives, HSC teaches future leaders the skills they need to drive change in the professions of law, government, education, politics, and nonprofit and business management. We ask students to wrestle with tough questions and justify their answers with carefully analyzed evidence. We also help students design and implement innovative solutions and policies for real world issues in greater New Haven and around the globe. As communities grapple with the challenges of social unrest, poverty, injustice, hunger, environmental degradation and a host of other issues, the need for HSC graduates to be able to lead with these skills is clear. 
Video credit: Adam Coppola
We have adopted the following goals and strategies to facilitate this process:
  • Small school enrollment
  • Diverse student body
  • Effective multicultural and multiethnic work groups
  • Problem-solving skills to increase and utilize reading, writing, communication and computation
  • Technology-rich education with a focus on computer literacy and innovation
  • Community volunteerism relating to law and social justice
  • Self-confidence to take academic, social, and career risks
  • Strong relationships that incorporate the local, national and global communities