Bronx Charter School for Better Learning
BRONX NY 10466 Map
Bronx Charter School for Better Learning
Bronx Charter School for Better Learning is an orderly school with a thoughtful and cohesive staff, engaged kids, and involved parents. Founded in 2003, it is one of the few public schools in the metropolitan area based on the teaching of Caleb Gattegno, an Egyptian-born mathematician who developed methods of teaching literacy and math using color-coded charts and wooden rods some 50 years ago. His methods have been used widely in Europe and Africa.
Children at the charter school use Cuisenaire rods brightly colored wooden rods to learn addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The rods come in 10 different lengths, each representing a different number and color. For example, a white rod is one unit long, a red rod is two units long, and a green rod is three units long. Children put the rods together in a way that allows them to visualize arithmetic facts.
Reading is taught with a program called "Words in Color." In this method, each letter-sound is assigned a different color, and all the sounds in the English language are listed in color-coded charts on the wall. For example, the "f" sound in English may be represented by the letters "f" or "ph" or "gh." Each of these letters or letter combinations is color-coded lavender. The system is designed to help children sound out words like "rough" or "telephone."
The school occupies pleasant, brightly-lit prefabricated classrooms on the playground of PS 111. The classes, with only 18 children in each, are uncluttered, with blue tile floors and gray and blue Formica desks. Children wear uniforms: white shirts and burgundy sweater with blue plaid jumpers for the girls and plaid neckties for the boys, except on days when they have gym and wear green, yellow or red t-shirts over blue sweat pants. Most of the children are of Caribbean ancestry, including many from Jamaica. There are also children from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
"What I like most is the cohesiveness and teamwork of the staff members," said PTA president Prema Thompson. "They really get to know the kids individually." She said parents frequently volunteer in the school and the administration has an open door policy.
In some respects, the school is traditional, with an emphasis on discipline, spelling and grammar. But teachers are also intent on sparking children's imagination. "They are not spoon-fed or drilled," said Thompson, who serves on the school's board of trustees. "The school understands that each child has an innate ability to learn, and the curriculum is designed to draw that out."
Principal Shubert Jacobs says the staff cares about children's emotional and physical development as well as their academic progress. "There is a concern not just about test scores, but about the whole child," he said. "The child feels cared for and loved."
The senior staff is knowledgeable and experienced. Executive Director Ted Swartz, (who serves as a sort of superintendent) has a PhD in education from New York University and practiced the "Words in Color" methods at his previous job as principal and superintendent in Ogdenburg, N.Y. Jacobs was a principal of a school in his native Jamaica. Paula Hajar, a teacher, has a PhD in education from Harvard and was head of elementary education in Englewood, N.J. Daniel Tamulonis, a teacher, led Peace Corps Fellows Program at Teachers College and taught for a number of years in the Congo.
The school had no kindergarten at the time of our visit although there are plans to add that in a few years. The school, which had only grades 1-3 in the 2005-06 school year will grow to include 4th and 5th grades.
Only a few children receive special education services, which are quite limited.
After school: Children may attend an after-school program at a nearby church.
Admissions: A lottery is held in April. Priority is given to District 11 residents. Like all charter schools, students from anywhere in the city may apply. An open house is held in February. There are far more applicants that seats available. (Clara Hemphill, May 2006)