Over time, Beacon was forced to accept certain aspects of the Regents-based testing curriculum, and to abandon its portfolio-assessment system as the sole method of graduation, which it had been up until mid-1999. Beacon now utilizes, in its own words, "traditional testing ... [but] our students' progress is largely assessed through performance-based projects, completed individually and in groups. To graduate, students must present their best work to panels of teachers"
Beacon also offers several Advanced Placement courses for those that have shown merit for them. These courses can count for up to six college credit hours at any university, depending on the subject(s) taken. AP courses are available currently in the Math, Language, and Science departments. The History department is notable for its stand against offering such courses, preferring to offer challenging, but heterogeneously grouped classes in the twelfth grade.
Beacon's in-school requirements have been significantly more stringent than those of comparable New York City public high schools since well before its forced acceptance of the Regents Exam system. There are still critics who complain that Beacon's acceptance of that system hindered, not helped, its overall college-preparatory initiatives. Regents Exams are standardized tests that do not tailor themselves to the particular academic performance strategies and attitudes of each student the way portfolio-based systems do.
Though the yearly schedule is officially broken up into two semesters, these are not standard United States college semesters; rather, after one is over, students return to their previous classes with the same teachers for the second semester if it is a yearlong class or if they re freshmen or sophomores. Electives such as art or drama, change each semester as long as the student has chosen to take one different than the one they were previously taking. In junior year however, there are science courses such as chemistry or immunology that last only one semester and the student has the opportunity to take another science the next semester.
The school does not require its students to do internships, but internship opportunities are available for those that want to pursue them. A certain number of community service hours, however, is a strictly-enforced requirement of the Beacon School for graduation, and can be fulfilled however a student likes, as long as s/he clears the work with an academic advisor in writing before beginning it.
Every tenth grader (15-16 year old) at the Beacon School takes the Community Service class in either the Fall or Spring semester. We try to provide internships that are educational for students and at the same time meaningful for the community. Beacon students reflect on their experience in written journals and in a weekly classroom seminar.
Beacon students are expected to work five hours per week over a semester (about 4 months) in a site that they select. Students are let out of school at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and at 2:20 p.m. on Friday to facilitate completion of these hours. However they may negotiate any work schedule that is convenient to themselves and their community service site. A total of 50 hours is required for passing credit in the course. Students who complete 75 hours are eligible for "honors" credit.
Students in Community Service meet weekly in a seminar to reflect on their community service work and to explore related social issues. Some students are responsible for writing a weekly guided journal entry that is submitted to their community service seminar teacher.
The Beacon School offers many extracurricular activities; sports like Tennis, Softball, Track, Boys and Girls Bowling, Boys and Girls Basketball, Boys and Girls Ultimate, Boys and Girls Soccer, Girls Cross Country, and the Fencing Team form an integral part of the culture at Beacon. The Boys Baseball team won the B Division PSAL championship in 2002 and 2003.
There is also After-School Theater and Studio Stage Crew,(Beacon Drama Art, Theater, also known as BDAT), Beacon Book Club, a Biking Club, a Rock Climbing Club, a Dance Club, a Debate club, an "End of the Tunnel Press club," a Gay/Straight Alliance, a Live Poets Society, a Mural Project/Art Club, Music Performance, a Photo Club, a Senior Committee (populated by seniors who are responsible for helping with plans for graduation and the annual senior trip), an activist group (Students Organizing Students, or SOS), a Student Council, a fantastic Model United Nations club that has won various awards, and others.
Politically, the school has been described as hanging largely left of center, both in its student body and faculty outlook. There is a long tradition of organizing and/or attending protests; a number of faculty as well as students participate in these events.
Educational travel has become, in more recent years, an important part of the educational culture. Class trips have gone to destinations that include India, Cuba, Venezuela, France, Sweden, Costa Rica, Mexico, South Africa, and New Orleans. However, the school no longer sanctions trips to New Orleans for reasons of which the school has not commented.