THE word traditional is not often used when describing New York
City's Manhattan International High School. The desks in the dimly
lit classrooms are not arranged in the grid pattern of conventional
schools, but in ovals so four students can work together on
projects. The teachers do not lecture about history or math for 40
minutes but lead discussions about Revolutions and Encounters for
And the international composition of the student body would make
even UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali sit up and take
notice. Olga Marte and Ramon Castillo are from the Dominican
Republic, Marcin Tomasik and Nina Sosnicka are natives of Poland,
and Alan Sadovnikovas is of Lithuanian descent. More than 40
countries are represented at the school, which admits only students
who have been in the United States less than four years.
But what makes this school stand out from the many other
multicultural public institutions is its innovative scheduling
format. Manhattan International is one of the first schools in the
country to successfully bring block scheduling - the use of two or
more periods for the extended exploration of complex topics - into
an urban public school system.
Between 10 to 15 school districts in New York State currently
administer some form of block scheduling, estimates Alan Ray,
director of communications for the New York State Education
Department, and there are positive signs that it spurs more
in-depth, college-like discussions in the classroom.
"We get to more, get more depth," says Olga, an 11th grade student
at Manhattan International. "This school is different from other
schools because we learn and share ideas with each other as well as
with the teachers. With the old schedule, by the end of the day,
you had to try to remember what homework you had for first period."
BLOCK scheduling is gaining support not only in New York City but
also around the country, because it is a low-cost, long-term way of
improving America's financially strapped public school system.
"Schools have to make a commitment to systemic, long-term change,
and block scheduling is a significant way of improving their
overall standards," says Charles Santelli, director of policy for
the New York State United Teachers, a union.
In a block-scheduling study done at Brockport High School in
upstate New York over the 1993-'94 school year, Donald
Nelson-Nasca, a recently retired professor of educational
administration who has studied block scheduling, found that the
school gained 42 days of instructional time over the course of a
school year by implementing the concept. "For every hour of the
school day, almost 10 minutes of potential instruction time is
wasted when students pack up their bags and head for the next
class," says Dr. …