The Equity Project Charter School (TEP)
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The Equity Project Charter School (TEP)
The Equity Project Charter School (TEP) is a small, nurturing school in Washington Heights which opened in 2009 as a middle school serving students in grades 5 to 8. In 2016 TEP expanded to include elementary grades, beginning with kindergarten. It is very welcoming to students with special needs and those learning to speak English. Teachers and staff do a good job at serving a broad range of students and offer all children lots of academic and social support.
The school demands a lot of its teachers but pays them well too—far above the scale for a traditional public school teacher. In exchange for higher pay, teachers take on multiple tasks outside the classroom. They supervise tutoring for a grade, coach sports teams, supervise breakfast and lunch, and serve as a math specialist. They also spend time observing one another teach and three times a year, during school breaks, they participate in professional development. TEP’s founder and principal, Zeke Vanderhoek says he is able to pay teachers more--even with a budget that is comparable to that of an ordinary public school—because they take on extra responsibilities.
Teachers have a pleasant rapport with children and are good at adapting lessons to what the children seem to need, rather than insisting they conform to rigid expectations. For instance, in a math class, the teacher gave his fidgety 6th-graders a brief break in the middle of the lesson. When the break ended, the chattier students took a couple of minutes to quiet down, but once they did, they were focused and stayed on task.
Boosting students’ speaking and writing skills in English is a challenge in a school where most students speak Spanish at home. Students in all grades participate in debates to help them express complex ideas. Students are expected to read history and science books as well as literature and many classrooms are stocked with a nice variety of books and reading materials. “The biggest reason kids struggle to write well is that they have nothing to write about,” said Vanderhoek.
In math, teachers give stronger students more challenging work. In 8th grade there is an advanced math class for top students.
In 5th grade, students study vocals and basic music theory and notation. Instrumental music instruction begins in 6th grade. During the final period of the day students participate in extra-curricular activities such as sports, arts, chess and photography.
Beyond solid academics, TEP students get lots of extra support. Small-group academic help is built into the daily schedule and many classes have two teachers. Each grade has its own social worker, who stays with the students as they advance from grades 5 to 8. The school has very high attendance rates and to make sure kids arrive on time; an attendance teacher hands out alarm clocks and will even pick up children from their home in the morning if needed.
Eight-graders get top notch guidance for high school admissions. TEP graduates attend a range of public, private and Catholic high schools. Some graduates attend very selective public high schools including, Bard in Manhattan and Queens, Beacon, Brooklyn Latin, Columbia Secondary, High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College, and Millennium.
Classes are held in red trailers on the grounds of the George Washington Educational Campus in Washington Heights. TEP has purchased land about a half mile away and will build a permanent facility once the needed funds are raised. The elementary grades are housed at 4280 Broadway.
Classes are held from 7:45 am to 4 pm. The school year runs on a different schedule than traditional public schools. Rather than have a long summer break, students start school in early August, and take two, three-week-long breaks during the school year.
Special education: TEP has more extensive special education services than many charter schools. The school’s social workers, who are all bilingual, coordinate students’ services. The school has ICT (Integrated Collaborative Teaching). SETSS (special education support services) is offered during the regularly scheduled time set aside for student support so children do not need to miss class time. The school offers speech, occupational and physical therapy.
Admissions: Children are admitted by lottery held in April. Preference to District 6 residents, English language learners and students receiving special education services. There are 120 seats for incoming kindergartners. (Laura Zingmond, May, 2014; updated January 2017 with information about the elementary grades and site.)