Benjamin Schoolreview by Swarthmore College student. Academics at The Benjamin School are far superior to those offered at any of the nearby public schools. The exception is the public school system's magnet program. Suncoast High School, an IB magnet school in Riviera Beach, is at least on par with Benjamin. For students with a serious interest in the arts, Dreyfoos School of the Arts, a magnet school in West Palm Beach, offers by far the strongest arts program in the area, although the interdisciplinary education for an art student will be much better at Benjamin. Benjamin academics are top notch, with students traveling from as far as Wellington and Stuart to attend this high school (a 35-40 minute drive away). The school offers almost 20 AP classes, and across all departments these classes were extremely strong. For regular level classes, the English department was probably the strongest of the bunch. Although the school does offer classes in the arts, this department stands out as the weakest, excepting music. Knowing how to express ideas persuasively on paper has been the most helpful skill I acquired at the school. Benjamin is one of the most "wired" high schools in the country. The entire school has wireless internet, every student MUST purchase a tablet laptop computer to attend the school, and every classroom has an electronic smartboard (in addition to the whiteboard) that is connected to the teachers computer and can be written on with digital ink and clicked with the touch of a hand. This technology is integrated in most classes and are used for everything from emailing homework assignments to in some cases reading book material. Students can even write on their screen and share with the rest of the class what the wrote either by sending it to the rest of the class' computers or sending it to the electronic part of the front board, known as the "smartboard" (the smartboard integrates with the teachers computer and can be written on with digital ink). From what I've seen, being one of the most wired high schools in the country is a great way for Benjamin to get good publicity, but in the end the money would be much better spent in other places, such as hiring high quality teachers to match the school's growth. Students were often heavily distracted by the computers sitting on or near their desks. Since this program was brand new when I was graduating from Benjamin, this program may have improved, but my personal opinion is that this amount of extra technology is a distraction, an impediment to learning, and ultimately money wasted for both the students' families and the school. If you plan on attending here, shop around for your tablet pc. It is likely much cheaper to purchase it online than direct through the school. The student body is not overly competitive, and students did not compare grades with much frequency. High performing students, however, were much more competitive, even though it was kept to friendly competition. Classes were rarely over 20 students, on average around 15. Higher level courses were always smaller, and in my experience the school was willing to provide an AP class even if only a couple students were interested. Faculty were usually caring and accessible. The harder the course (honors or AP), the more likely it is that you will draw a fantastic teacher. There are a few bad apples like there are anywhere, but the majority will do whatever necessary to be available to students. The average workload was about 4 hours per night, but students (myself included) got by on much less. Faculty did not teach to the (AP, SAT) test, except when they thought it would be particularly helpful to students for scoring well. In general, the focus was on engaging students in the learning process. Several years ago the school opened an entirely new campus that is dedicated to high school students (the aforementioned "smart" campus). While the facilities are exceptional (if not a bit stale compared to the original Ellison Wilson campus), teacher quality is suffering a bit during this time of growth. The old, experienced teachers are still there, but expect to your share of younger, less experienced teachers as well.
Interestingly, Benjamin School does not offer any school buses. There is ample parking for students to park their own car or parents may drop off and pick up their kids. The school also does not offer a cafeteria. Each day a different local restaurant brings food that students may buy for approximately five dollars. As tasty as this sounds, the food that is brought in is almost always not very good, and by the time senior year comes around a standard high school cafeteria might be more appetizing. There are plenty of picnic tables that students eat at outside, and on rainy days students eat together in the classrooms. The facilities at the high school are excellent. The entire high school campus is brand new. Sports facilities are quite good for a school of this size (about 475 students) and sports that do not have on campus facilities (namely swimming) have use of local club facilities. A well equipped workout room was recently built and there is an on staff trainer for athletes. The biggest issue that I have with the school is it's lack of diversity. Benjamin flat out states that diversity is an important part of its mission, but having a couple of wealthy African American students in attendance here doesn't exactly make them successful at fostering diversity. In particular, there is very little class diversity here. If you attend here, expect to be in the company of primarily very wealthy white students. One drive through the student parking lot during school hours will reflect this, with BMW and Lexus being the two most common cars. The school has a couple security guards that drive around the school on golf carts and the school can be quite anal about little rules, in particular dress code. The speed bumps in the parking lot are so ridiculous that even going over them at idle speed is jarring, to say the least. The Benjamin Upper School highers a couple of police cars to direct traffic at the beginning and end of each school day. Crime from outside the school is basically non-existent here. Drug use within the school is probably about average compared to other area public schools, but the difference is that students here can afford it if they want it. I would say that alcohol is very prevalent with students that attend this school, sometimes to the point of being a problem. Once again, students here have no trouble affording alcohol and figuring out ways of acquiring it. The school is surrounded completely by residential, gated communities.
Benjamin School's extracurricular activities are quite good for a school of its size. A reasonably strong theater program, very strong foreign language program that includes opportunities for extracurricular activities such as competitions, debate, athletics, and dance are all available. A dancer would probably be disappointed here and the debate program at the time was not particularly strong, although that tends to change from year to year. Athletics are probably the school's strongest extracurricular activity. Every student is required to participate in a sport. Because this policy begins in middle school at Benjamin, by the time students get to high school, the school's athletics tend to be far stronger than schools of comparable size. The school had plans to build a substantial performing arts center on the new high school campus. I believe that this will be completed soon (if it hasn't been already) and this should significantly add to the performing arts / drama and possibly the dance program. The activities that had the most lasting effects on me were the JSA program (Junior Statesmen of America) and athletics (tennis, which is very strong here), simply because these were the extracurricular activities that I participated in the most.