the beacon mystique

Year after year, I notice the school many (if not most) parents come into the process interested in Beacon. As I went through the process the first time, I too thought Beacon would be the perfect fit for my daughter. That lasted until we went on the tour. It was not the right fit for her and I saw why. Turns out, after his tour, Beacon didn’t resonate with my son either yet he still put it first on his application (he didn’t get in), feeling that since so many other kids thought it was so amazing, perhaps he was missing something.

While I don’t have a child at Beacon and I always advice against listening to hearsay of other parents about schools they don’t have a child in a school, at this point I know enough about schools and have spoken to plenty of Beacon kids and parents to share some thoughts and insights to perhaps keep in mind before the high school process kicks into high gear. 

Beacon offers a terrific variety of courses, especially creative ones, that you won’t find in most other public schools, especially in Manhattan. That’s because it’s larger than almost all Manhattan schools, with 1300 or so students, and therefore, has more resources, as funding is largely based on the number of students enrolled. Beacon isn’t tied to the NY State regents curriculum, as most schools are (they only give the English regents), and they don’t offer many AP’s (AP Biology, AP Chemistry, AP Physics, AP Spanish), so teachers have more flexibility as they aren’t teaching to tests. This makes for a less structured environment, which can be great for some kids, less so for others. Both my kids, when leaving the Beacon open house, said they liked structure and having an overview of what they’d be learning, along with having a goal at the end—I have to say, I was surprised at how they both had the same reaction for the same reason. And, they’re in a stunning new building. Truly, I’d be happy to go to school at that site. 

Beacon is rigorous. Kids have A LOT of homework. I’ve heard more than one say it can be up to 5 hours a night. There’s tons of reading. Performance based assessments are a large part of how kids are graded and the onus is on kids to stay on top of those more so than at schools with a stronger testing bias. That can be challenging for kids with organizational challenges or who aren’t self-starters. This ties into the less structured environment—this bit is the hearsay part, from the many kids and parents I’ve spoken with. Since teachers aren’t tethered to a curriculum and can teach more to their interests, that can lead to deeper concentrations in some areas that kids might not be as interested in and that can be frustrating.

Beacon doesn’t share it’s admissions rubric so you have no idea how much grades, test scores, attendance or their own portfolio review and interviews count when they rank kids. Something to keep in mind in general, in schools that use only data (grades, test scores attendance), there’s no room for subjectivity - ranking is based purely on numbers. In schools where they use additional criteria, who knows, especially when you don’t know how that extra material is being looked at or what percentage it is of the total picture. 

I am often asked about this: Beacon has a reputation as a party school, with lots of drug use. As the parent of two teenagers (actually my daughter just turned 20), I’ll say pretty confidently that there are kids who use drugs at just about every high school in the city. 

I’ve known kids who’ve thrived at Beacon. I also know kids who’ve struggled—turns out it wasn’t the right fit, academically or socially. That too is something that can and does happen at any high school in the city. 

One of the most valuable things I learned about this process is to trust your gut and not rely on other people’s opinions or hearsay about schools. Reputations can be misleading. Finding schools that are the right fit for your kids is key.