Brooklyn Academy High School
BROOKLYN NY 11216 Map
Brooklyn Academy High School
"What do you see now that you did not see at the beginning of the year?" the art teacher at Brooklyn Academy High School asked her class earlier in the semester. It was a fitting question for a small school in Bedford-Stuyvesant that serves transfer students who have not fared well in other settings. Kids responded with phrases they wove into watercolors they were painting: "I see now I can do better in school;" "I see goals in my life;" "I see individuals making tons of decisions at a time, so be careful;" "I see every day as my last;" "I see the struggle of a race;" "I see myself making it in life." Their messages conveyed both the students' bitter histories of uncertainty and failure, and their shaky renewal of optimism.
Some students at the Academy come from middle class families in nearby brownstones and are enrolled at the school simply to accumulate a few remaining credits needed for graduation. Most students, however, are kids who have grown up fast and fallen severely far behind. Three guidance counselors serve the Academy's 350 students, encouraging them to think about college by taking them on tours of campuses. One counselor gives out her cell phone number to students. "We want everyone to at least fill out a CUNY application," she says, so other applications won't seem so difficult afterwards.
Since fall 2003, when it was promoted from a program to a school, Brooklyn Academy has brought a relatively high number students to graduation: 75 students received diplomas in January 2005, and 100 more were expected to follow suit in June 2005. A number of graduates have gone on to St. John's University, Pratt Institute, and Antioch College, as well as SUNY and CUNY schools. Many other graduates decide to join the U.S. Army or the workforce.
These numbers, however, do not take into account the kids Brooklyn Academy loses along the way -- especially the ones who don't come to class. The attendance rate is not surprising when the Academy is compared to other transfer schools, but truancy leaves some classes so small that they have only three students. An attendance team made up of guidance counselors and school aides -- who also monitor the halls for stragglers -- calls parents when their children don't show up.
Students who do attend school sometimes present problems of their own. "Half the kids just come here and do nothing," a student told us. An assistant principal affectionately says "our biggest pains come everyday," referring to students who talk incessantly at inappropriate times during class, disrupting teachers. "They like coming here, but they have self-destructive tendencies," he said. A psychologist from the Interfaith Medical Center, a nearby hospital, works part-time at the school to counsel students.
The administration prizes the Academy's intimacy because it gives students access to caring adults. "You have to become a part of the student's life, and they become part of yours," says Principal Elaine Lindsey. Indeed, one student jokingly introduced herself to us as Lindsey's daughter. During our visit, after a frustrated student was caught leaving the building when he wasn't supposed to, a teacher and assistant principal stepped in to sit down and talk with him.
We saw academic classes where students were engaged in their lessons, working on projects with partners. "Ramp-Up" classes, designed for students performing below grade level, resemble elementary school classrooms with their small libraries and bean bag chairs -- even though students in one such class we saw were discussing very adult issues from Veronica Chamber's Mama's Girl, a memoir by a writer whose parents had had a bitter divorce. In addition to basic Regents-prep classes, the school offers specialized elective courses. A forensics science teacher once created a fake crime scene in the hallway and had students investigate clues. An Alvin Ailey Dance Company instructor teaches a dance class, and the art instructor also teaches Hebrew -- a surprising choice for the school.
One of the school's newest projects is the creation of an on-site recording studio. "We tap into the interests of the students," Lindsey says." If we find something they like, we build on it. We have everything children could possibly need."
After school: A Brooklyn not-for-profit organization, Church Avenue Merchants Block Association, hosts a tutoring and music industry program, where students learn about such lesser-known aspects of the entertainment business as production, management, and entertainment law. (Catherine Man, March 2005)