Bedford Academy High School
BROOKLYN NY 11216 Map
Bedford Academy High School
College flags are the first things you see when you enter Bedford Academy, and they set the tone for the academically demanding, tight-knit school community. The building is spotless, and it's clear from the smiles and 'good mornings' that the staff – from the principal to the safety agent – knows every student.
Staff and students work hard. Students are assigned to after-school tutoring twice a week in classes where they are struggling, and they are expected to come to school for two hours on Saturday. Teachers work long hours too, often staying into the evening. "You think you've given your all," said one teacher, "and then you give a little more."
Parents are also very involved. They can access their kids' homework assignments and quiz scores on line, and often exchange cell phone numbers with the staff. "The parents are on it," said one teacher.
Parent coordinator Pamela Tate, who hugs and greets most students by name, is described as the "glue" that helps parents stay connected to the school. A member of the founding team, she acts as nurse, counselor and community liaison.
The atmosphere inside the welcoming building is relaxed as students study in the halls, but discipline is tight. Cutting class can get you a three-day suspension. A star basketball player whose grades dropped three points below the mandatory 80 average was benched during the semi-finals in 2011 and watched his team fall three points shy of the title. "He didn't take care of his business, so he didn't play," said Robert Phelps, who is both coach and dean. "We didn't have that problem with him the next year."
The toughness is matched with a sense of family and responsibility. "If you're not prepared, then we've failed, and we're not in the business of failure," said Principal Adofo Muhammad, who moved from teacher to assistant principal at Benjamin Banneker and then was principal of JHS 258 and IS 143 before coming to Bedford in 2011. Students sit in his office during their lunch period to catch up on their studies. He teaches three classes, including a leadership class for male students who he describes as "at-promise," not at-risk. "We want them to be critical thinkers and leaders," Muhammad said.
The small size of the building creates a challenge for programming – about half the students on the Learning Environment Survey said there weren't enough activities and classes to keep them interested. Still, there are nine AP courses and a 10th planned for 2012, and all students must take four years of science and math.
The school requires uniforms, although seniors we saw were mostly dressed in street clothes. Some kids bristle at the strict demands – 40% on the Learning Environment Survey said adults yell all or most of the time and that the discipline wasn't fair. But staff members say they are pushing hard against an atmosphere outside the building where "anything goes" and where students can easily lose their way. "If you don't have the tenacity and drive to learn," said one student, "you will get it when you come here."
After school: Tutoring, school newspaper, debate and art. Sports teams include basketball, volleyball and track.
Special education: There is one special education teacher who comes into the classrooms to provide services.
College admissions: A guidance counselor handles college admissions. Every student must apply to one city school, a state school and a private college. Students have been admitted to elite schools such as Harvard, Brown, Barnard and Cornell. Penn State is a favorite, and many attend Indiana Tech, Temple, Howard University, Sienna and Stonybrook. Some go to top CUNY schools, but many students prefer to leave the city, the principal said.
Admissions: Priority is given to students who live in district 13. Students apply to one of two programs - technology and health professions. They must score at least a 2 on state ELA and math exams and have an average of 75 for the technology program and 80 for health professions. Exceptions are made, however, and family commitment to the school's rigorous demands is very important, the principal said. Interviews are also considered. In 2010 there were more than 3,800 applications for 80 spots. (Meredith Kolodner, April 2012)