An Advocate in the South Bronx

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Julie Anne Schwartz, a native Upper East Sider, has a lifelong passion for history, having studied it as an undergraduate at Columbia and in a master’s program at SUNY Stony Brook.

“I wanted to be a history professor, but was strongly advised against it by many different people because there were so few tenure track positions open at the time,” she said. “I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do with my life and decided that since I had always loved history so much that I wanted to teach it.”

So Schwartz followed her dream, and has been in New York City schools for 10 years, with the last three spent teaching U.S. history and government to juniors at Health Opportunities High School, based in a converted factory building in the South Bronx.

Photo by Isaac Rosenthal

Photo by Isaac Rosenthal

Teaching in the South Bronx is important to Schwartz because she feels she can have a positive impact on inner-city children. She has a special knack for instilling confidence and success in her students—and has the test scores to prove it.

Her U.S. History and Government Regents pass rate was an estimated 76 percent for the June 2007 exam and 86 percent for the June 2008 exam, with approximately 30 percent of students passing the more recent exam with a 90 or higher, according to Assistant Principal Julie Mchedlishvili.

But Schwartz says she sees the best results of her work every day.

“The rewards are hearing my students using Constitutional arguments to criticize perceived student violations in a student government election, or hearing from an 11th grade English teacher that when she discusses American literature with them, they really know their history,” she said. “Most rewarding of all is having two of my students from the class of 2006 come visit me recently and tell me they want to be history teachers because I inspired them.”

Schwartz will be the first to tell you that the key to her students’ success is teaching them how to uphold certain important, albeit basic, standards: they must get to class on time and turn in projects and homework on due dates. Questions are encouraged, so that the material is thoroughly digested.

“Expecting anything less from them is insulting to them and fails to prepare them for the demands of college and the job market,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz is an accomplished learner herself. She received a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute Fellowship in 2005 to study Islam and China at Columbia University, and was also awarded a Gilder-Lehrman Institute Teachers Fellowship, which allowed her to spend a week at Brown University studying with Professor Gordon Wood and teachers from across the country. She also has a J.D. and once worked for an independent record label, Laurie Records.

Outside the classroom, Schwartz is focused on raising her 12-year-old daughter and two dogs, Pip and Henry, in the same Upper East Side home that she grew up in and still shares with her father.

Julie Anne Schwartz
History and Government, Health Opportunities High School

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