South Bronx Preparatory: A College Board School
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South Bronx Preparatory: A College Board School
South Bronx Preparatory, founded in 2004 to replace the unruly junior high school MS 149, has managed to change both behavior and expectations for students in its community. Affiliated with the College Board, the staff works diligently to educate students and their families about college opportunities and preparedness.
Building and Location: Located a short walk from the bustling shopping center of “The Hub,” South Bronx Prep provides refuge from a historically depressed and violent neighborhood. A friendly security guard (whose own children attend the school) greets students and visitors. The school shares a building with MS 223, inhabiting the first floor and part of the second. Both principals describe their working relationship as “excellent” and administrators commonly share resources.
School environment and culture: South Bronx Prep provides a supportive environment for students, most of whom come from three nearby housing projects. Though many students are not prepared academically, they bring open hearts and are engaged in their classes. Administrators know every child’s name and personal history. Many times during our visit, Principal Ellen Flanagan stopped students, and in a caring tone, inquired about their mood and well-being. The principal’s office has a seating area with couches (“different types of conversations call for different settings,” she explained) and a bulletin board on which every senior’s name is listed, alongside the credits the student needs to graduate.
“Students pay attention to this,” says Assistant Principal Venus Williams, “and if your friends see you on the wrong side, they say, ‘come on, you gotta graduate with us.’” Another bulletin board lists the graduates of the previous year’s senior class and their college acceptances. A 9th-grader paused by the board to look at the “SAT question of the day.” A senior told us he wanted to be an electrical engineer. “Colleges are going to look at your math grades,” reminded the principal firmly, “from all four years.” This “tough love” mentality seems successful with the students, many of whom don’t get the same support at home. A 10-grader told us that, after missing 66 days of school in the first semester of 9th grade to “hang out with his mom,” the school organized a “convention” (“intervention,” corrected an administrator) and he hadn’t been absent in almost a year.
Teaching & Curriculum: Administrators have high academic expectations, but they face many challenges in bringing students up to grade level. Student work we saw posted was often sub-par. In one middle school math class, students had written goals for the year on index cards. “My goal is to learn more about lines,” read one. “My goal is to complute work,” read another. A 7th-grade class was solving basic math problems such as “6x1=.”
“Students have 5-6 grade levels of difference in ability in some classes,” said Assistant Principal Alan Baer. “We need to increase expectations and push instruction. But if we do it too fast, we’d have problems with absenteeism and dropout rates. Our kids need support.”
Most classes we saw featured students working in groups and teachers encouraging constant verbal participation, through group projects and inventive lesson plans, such as a lively (if disorganized) debate between “Patriots,” “Loyalists,” and “Moderates” in an 11th grade social studies class learning about the Revolutionary War.
Two science teachers in a 9th-grade Collaborative Team Teaching “life sciences” class were preparing students for state Regents exams: “The Regents ask a lot of questions that require you to know synonyms, and our students don’t have that vocabulary,” a teacher told us. The teachers asked students to rephrase Regents questions into their own words so that they would learn new synonyms.
An art teacher explained vocabulary words she had prepared for the lesson: “When I say media, I’m not talking about TV. I’m talking about paint, collage, pencils. I’m checking on your English skills, here, too!” The principal, who sat in on the class, was furiously texting on her Blackberry: “I email teachers real-time when I visit their classes to give them feedback on how they’re incorporating lesson plans we’ve discussed.”
Students raise their hands showing a range of fingers from 1 to 5 across the grades to express how well they understand the lesson. Teachers then work with those students who need further explanation.
The high school offers Advanced Placement courses in English, Biology, Spanish Literature, and Psychology. Students can take up to two Advanced Placement courses, although the school average is “at a 1 or a 2” (out of a possible 5), according to an administrator.
Partnerships and programs: The school is affiliated with the College Board which provides trips to colleges in the Junior year. Mount Sinai runs a mental health clinic in the building. An administrator describes use of the clinic as “active,” pointing to the accessibility of the resource, but also to the troubled student population.
Family involvement: Parent involvement has historically been weak and the school recently designated a parent lounge area. On the day of our visit, we met a few active parents there. Parent Coordinator Tanisha Crawford (whose child attends the school), said she has organized parent breakfasts and a course called “Human Development Life Skills” for high school students. “Many parents work more than one job and feel that unless something is wrong, they don't need to come into the school,” she said. “Many parents still don't pick up their children's report card. “
After school: There are boys and girls basketball teams but no other team sports. There are also test readiness classes, periodic drama performance, and yoga classes. Students also attend Club Getaway, where they spend 2-3 days off-campus doing trust exercises, to help build school spirit and unity.
Special education: There are Collaborative Team Teaching classes but no self-contained classes. Twenty percent of their population receives special education services. The principal said she was proud of the “large number” of special needs students who passed the Regents exams (11 out of 15 in the 2007-2008 school year).
English language learners: Only about 5%of the students are English Language Learners
Admissions: Priority to District 7 students for middle school; approximately 65% of the high school students are graduates of the South Bronx Prep middle school.
After graduation: Of the 2009 graduates, 99% were accepted to CUNY schools, 24% were accepted to four-year colleges including Emmanuel in Boston, and Rutgers University, as well as state universities. A major challenge is getting graduates to stay in college, according to college Advisor, Binta Hinson . “The College Board mission is to take minorities that wouldn't have access to college and open that up to them. We have been successful in setting a mindset of college, now we are working on the reality of getting there and staying there,” she said. (Amalia della Paolera /Jacquie Wayans, October 2009)