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Syracuse Latin School brings different learning approach

Ellen Abbott
One of the classrooms at the new Syracuse Latin School.

Three new schools in the Syracuse City School District will be opening their doors on Tuesday for the first day of classes.

Delaware Primary and the Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler are the new iterations of Fowler High School and Delaware Elementary, which were closed after failing to raise academic performance over the last three years.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO
The Syracuse Latin School will target talented and gifted students, offering them a slightly different education than other schools in the district.

A third school that will be phased out because of poor performance is Hughes Elementary. That school will be replaced by the Syracuse Latin School, which will cater to gifted and talented students.

Principal Kelly Maynard says she knew she was getting some inquisitive kids after meeting some of the first students of Syracuse’s Latin School.

“This one little boy came in and said, 'I need you to know we have a weed problem out by the playground,'" Maynard said. "He’s just going into kindergarten. I said, okay, thank you for letting me know, and we’ll get somebody on that right away.”

The Latin school will offer accelerated instructional programs and a challenging liberal arts programs to the students who get in. Almost 200 families applied to get their child in the selective school, and about 85 have been accepted and enrolled.

Maynard says the result is two classes of first graders and two classes of kindergartners.

"We really have a true sprinkling from the entire city," Maynard explained. "We also have kids who had previously attended a private school or charter schools who are attending. Their parents have chosen for them to come back into the city to enroll them in the Syracuse Latin School.”

The school right now consists of classrooms on the bottom floor of the Hughes K-8 School on Syracuse’s east side.

As time goes on, the school will grow by one grade level a year, until Hughes is phased out and the K-5 Latin school occupies the whole building. At first glance the classrooms look typical, with primary colors on the walls and floors and bins full of books and school supplies.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO
Kindergarten teacher Christina McConnell prepares her classroom for the fall.

But Kindergarten teacher Chistina McConnell is looking forward to taking exceptional kids to the next level.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of different students," McConnell said. "English language learners, students with special needs. What I’ve found, especially in this district, is that a lot of students that are above level are the ones that the instruction isn’t being differentiated for them.

"And they're not being targeted so they’re meeting the standard, so they’re kind of ignored, so they don’t have the opportunity to be pushed and challenged more.”

Maynard says that push will come in the form of the district's regular curriculum, and also something called Core Knowledge.

“Which really utilizes a deep and rich content to teach reading skills," Maynard said. "So kids will have the opportunity to learn about ancient Chinese history, different scientific concepts all while learning and practicing reading skills.”

They’ll also get Spanish instruction, and much of their time will be spent on projects.

“For example, kindergarten; their first project is a STEM based project, where the class will be making predictions around what they might need to build a particular structure," Maynard said. "How tall it could be, how much weight it could hold. They’ll make those predictions, they’ll build it, they’ll test it out.”

Maynard says the students are representative of the district; they come from all parts of the city, but the thing they all have in common is they are academically above the level of the average kindergartner or first grader in the Syracuse City School District.

“We're hoping that we can really tap into the talents that they have, the background knowledge that they have, their academic level that they’re currently at, to be able to take and move them further than they may have gone otherwise,” Maynard said.

McConell agrees, saying students will have different chances to succeed.

“This is just really an opportunity to have the kids that are maybe a little bit above level, push them further," McConnell explained. "Challenge them and really target the exceptional and gifted students.”