The Smith School: Making a Difference

The Smith School describes itself as a "Small School with a Big Heart." This month it is celebrating its 25th year of making a difference for special students in New York City.

In 1990 founder and Smith School Director Karen Smith had seen many students struggle with their academics in the city's public and private schools. "I felt there was a need for misplaced students who weren't receiving the services they needed to be successful," Smith said. Her solution was to create a school that takes into account each individual student's distinct needs and learning styles. The school's approach is to empower good teachers "to awaken the latent potential of all our students to succeed academically, to grow emotionally, and to overcome with success the various challenges each day brings."

The Smith School provides a flexible program of academic studies for grades 7 through 12, and its curriculum focuses heavily on music, art and drama. This is a reflection of Ms. Smith's background; she earned a Master of Arts Degree in Directing for Theater from UCLA. Smith's theater background imbues the school's drama program with the goal of helping students develop public speaking and acting skills, "which creates a safe a nurturing environment for growth and personal exploration." The Smith School claims to have one of the strongest music programs among independent schools in the city, and its strong arts program benefits from the school's location near the city's great museums and galleries.

The Smith School has helped 927 students over the past quarter century, and 173 students have graduated from the institution. More than 90% of its students have gone on to attend a 4-year college. The school has been granted membership in several important educational organizations, including the Board of Regents of the State of New York, the Middle States Association on Secondary Schools, and the New York State Association of Independent Schools.

"This school is truly remarkable," one parent said. "I had lost hope my child would ever succeed until she came to Smith." A parent of an 8th grader said, "From the very first day of school, my daughter was excited to attend the Smith School." A 2015 graduate observed, "My four years at Smith prepared me for the challenges I was faced with my freshman year in college."

The school's classes are small, typically 5 students, and the learning is individualized. Early on the Smith School recognized bullying as a devastating and painful problem for students in public and private schools. Its teachers are alert and vigilant to the problem. Teachers treat all students with respect and expect students to be respectful with each other.

The energetic and remarkable Karen Smith saw an opportunity 25 years ago to make a difference for those students who are different, who struggle in today's highly competitive and socially demanding educational institutions. Looking back over the history of the Smith School, she says, "I am incredibly proud...of keeping my promise to provide a safe and nurturing environment for students who were unsuccessful in their previous environment because of their differences." She concluded, "While at Smith we embrace those differences."