Family Life Academy Charter School

14 WEST 170 STREET
BRONX NY 10452 Map
Phone: (718) 410-8100
Admissions: Lottery/District 9 priority
unzoned
charter
Principal: Angel Rodriguez
Neighborhood: South Bronx
District: 9
Grade range: 0K thru 08

What's special:

Push to improve literacy skills.

The downside:

Limited play space for recess.

The Inside Stats

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Our review

Family Life Academy Charter School was founded in 2001 as a response by the community to the dismal performance of area public schools. Its chief organizer was the Latino Pastoral Action Center, a faith-based organization that offers a variety of social services to the neighborhood. Family Life Academy is housed in the group's community center, which also offers an after-school program for a fee. Space could become a tricky issue if the small school grows any bigger; even now, recess is confined to two small areas on the roof.

Principal Marilyn Calo arrived in 2003 and found to her dismay that the quality of students' work left much to be desired. Kindergartners were not reading, and she showed us written assignments from upper grade students, which were short and sometimes error-filled, that she had saved from her first year at the school. Calo spent her first few months just observing teachers and students before launching changes. These included working closely with teachers, offering more training, and introducing a new literacy program to supply ample phonics instruction. These changes have increased parents' confidence in the school, and staff members now apply to get their children into Family Life Academy.

What makes the school's task particularly challenging is the large number of children who need English as a Second Language services. The majority of students come from Spanish-speaking immigrant families, and more than half of the student body are classified by the city Department of Education as in need of extra help to learn English. While the school does not offer bilingual classes, all teachers are trained in ESL strategies, said Calo.

There's pressure to do well, because otherwise, as Calo put it, "the school gets shut down." To boost standardized test scores, students are assessed monthly and progress is monitored closely by a data specialist. Teachers and staffers literally "cheer" students on with pom-poms the day before they take standardized exams. One staff member said, "It's about fostering excitement for the test. We had a lot of fun through it all."

The result is that now students spend a lot of time writing or reading. Vocabulary words are posted on blackboards, and we saw that the student work displayed is lengthier and more substantial than in the past. In one class we visited, 5th graders were trying to incorporate more dialogue into their fictional stories, working so earnestly that they were late to lunch. In another class, bubbly kindergartners were able to write one to two sentences to go with pictures they had made; one little girl sounded out every word as she wrote.

Calo says "there's always room for improvement" and continues to think up activities in hopes of fostering a love for reading. Whenever she finds a children's book she likes, she asks the entire school to read it, and each class responds with a "community book" project. There's also a daily, 15-minute "Drop Everything and Read" time, when everyone--teachers and staffers included--sits down to read.

Admissions: A lottery is held in April. District 9 and siblings of students have priority. (Catherine Man, May 2006)

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