Bushwick Community High School
BROOKLYN NY 11221 Map
Bushwick Community High School
MAY 2011 UPDATE: Bushwick Community High School is one of twenty-two schools that will receive Small Improvement Grant funding of up to $2 million to implement the “Restart” intervention model. Each “Restart” school will be matched to a non-profit educational partner organization that will work closely with the principal and school community to implement a targeted improvement plan aimed at strengthening the curriculum, developing academic supports for students, and helping teachers improve practice. These schools will remain open and a new class of students will be admitted next year.
APRIL 2005 REVIEW: Above the chalkboard, gigantic letters read: "BE HERE NOW." This is the classroom of social studies teacher, Ellie Weiss, and she, like everyone working at Bushwick Community High School, is offering support, encouragement, and an education to students aged 17-21 who have not been successful at their previous high school. "Let me tell you, it's normal to feel discouraged, to feel you can't do it. That's normal. What's not, is caving into it," said Weiss, who has been inspiring and educating students at the school and its predecessor for 20 years. In 2004, she received the Sloan Public Service Award for excellence in public service.
Prior to Bushwick Community's launch as a formal public school in fall 2004, it had functioned over the years as Bushwick Outreach, an alternative education program. When students graduated, they received their diplomas from the high school they had attended before joining Outreach, and according to the school, Bushwick Outreach boasted a 70 - 80 percent graduation rate. Unlike most alternative high schools, which require students to have a minimum number of academic credits, Bushwick Community High School welcomes students with or without credits, as long as they can read on least a 5th grade level.
The school is housed in a small wing on the fourth floor of IS 291, and, although the middle school has metal detectors, Bushwick Community High School, which has its own entrance on the ground floor, does not. With no more than 350 students, the school provides a loving, respectful, family-like atmosphere, where students call teachers by their first names. "We call it home," said Principal Tira Randall, whose office sometimes serves as a mini-kitchen. Hungry students casually stroll in and grab a granola bar, or scoop some sugar onto a bowl of less-than-flavorful Department of Education-issue cornflakes. In place of an official lunch period, the school allows students to get warm lunches from a heated cart and eat in their classrooms. Most students work full-time jobs or raise children and prefer to eat quickly, rather than sit in a cafeteria for 45 minutes, according to the principal. Additionally, on Wednesdays, the school day ends at noon, although students may take elective courses in the afternoon. The offerings are an interesting mix: hip-hop, African drumming, pottery, basketball, or "giant thinking" talks with a motivational speaker.
The school is committed to making whatever accommodations are necessary to meet the demands of students' often difficult lives. About 30 to 40 percent of students live without a parent or legal guardian, and some reside in homeless shelters, says Assistant Principal Jennifer Ostrow. Administrators are quick to find the root cause of a student's tardiness, knowing that often it's not just apathy. Many kids have no adult guidance outside of school to steer them away from dangerous behavior.
"It's so sad," said the principal, who also acts like a mother to 350 over-aged children. Staffers empathize with the kids, in part because some of them, too, struggled to survive on rough Bushwick streets during their youth. A school guidance counselor recalls the day she was expelled from Bushwick High School, and arrived at Bushwick Outreach. She graduated high school, went to college, obtained her bachelor's degree, moved on to graduate school, and now holds two master's degrees.
When one boy stopped attending class, his teacher posted signs around his neighborhood in East New York that read: "Boy Wonder (his nickname), we miss you, please come back to school, where are you? Please call Ellie or Ilze." The teacher also walked around East New York, telling neighbors that his teachers were looking for their student. Two days later, the boy returned to school.
Because so many students arrive at school with spotty educational backgrounds some passed their Regents English exam, but do math at an 8th grade level students are not placed into grades, but take classes based on their achievement to date in a particular subject. The school also offers a one-semester immersion Regents preparation course for global and U.S. history, and a two-semester earth science and living environment immersion Regents preparation course. There's also a raft of courses of special interest to black and Hispanic students: African-American studies, Latino studies, history of slavery in America, and the Harlem Renaissance.
During our visit, teachers were energetic, supported confused students, and continuously ignited sparks of "aha!" In some classes we saw, however, teachers spent too much time getting a lesson underway. In one, for example, students stared into space while the teacher handed out textbooks, re-explained the lesson, and then walked to the bookshelf to grab another textbook and explain the lesson yet again to a different group of students.
In addition, a majority of classrooms were disorganized and downright messy. Numerous classrooms were cluttered with old computers, and haphazard stacks of paper collected dust on desks, tables, and bookshelves. And, while some classrooms were covered with plants, student work, and collages of Malcolm X or posters of other notable African- Americans and Latinos, other classrooms felt dry and lifeless.
Special education: About 27 students receive special education services. Teachers work inside students' regular classrooms to provide additional support. There is also a classroom with supplies for students with special needs.
English as a Second Language: About 15 ESL students receive additional help in their classrooms from a teacher certified in ESL instruction.
After school: The school conducts classes including Spanish for travelers, finance, film, and hidden voices in women's literature. There are also lectures, and guest speakers have included poet Abiodun Oyewole.
Admissions: The school is open to students from throughout the five boroughs, age 17-21, who were not successful at their previous high school and can read at a 5th grade level or above. Interested students should call Erica Rhodes in May for fall admissions, and in December for spring admissions. (Vanessa Witenko, April 2005)