WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — The Washington Heights school that was singled out by President Barack Obama in a speech last week is hosting an open house for parents of young children Thursday night as it prepares to welcome its first kindergarten class next school year.
The Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, which currently serves 650 students in grades 6 to 12 inside a space shared with I.S. 143 at 511 W. 182nd St., was praised by Obama on Jan. 16 for its success at getting students into college. Starting next fall, organizers plan to begin accepting 50 students into their inaugural kindergarten class as part of a gradual expansion into to a K to 12 school.
As WHEELS expands into the lower grades, it will open its doors to students from anywhere inside school District 6, which covers Washington Heights, Inwood and part of Harlem, organizers said. The school will also have a Spanish dual-language program, ensuring that students are bilingual and bi-literate when they reach middle school.
WHEELS' middle and high schools have scored highly on the Department of Education progress reports, and principal Brett Kimmel said his staff is excited to work with children from a younger age.
"Our mission is not changing. We work with all of our six-through-12th-grade students to prepare them for success in college and beyond. The only thing that's changing is the 'six,'" Kimmel said.
Kimmel then pointed to Estiven Rodriguez, the WHEELS senior who was lauded by Obama for reaching the top of his senior class after barely being able to speak English upon entering the school in sixth grade.
"One of the things we're excited about is additional control of educational outcomes," Kimmel said. "Estiven is amazing and he's worked so hard, but can you imagine if we had him from kindergarten? The possibilities are endless."
WHEELS will be expanding to take over most of the building's third and fourth floors when the transition is complete. The school building, which once also housed a third school—the Community Health Academy of the Heights—has the capacity to serve 1,600 students. It currently serves about 1,100 between WHEELS and I.S. 143.
Kimmel said that his staff has thought very hard about how kindergartners will co-exist with high school students, and he said the school will look for ways to have the older students help the younger ones along.
"There are so many opportunities for community service for our seniors," Kimmel said. "They can be reading pals to our little ones; they can help out in the classroom.
"We view the wide range of ages as an asset."
WHEELS' open house will run from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at 511 W. 182nd St., Room 401. To RVSP, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212-781-0524.