The Opportunity Charter School
MANHATTAN NY 10026 Map
The Opportunity Charter School
Opportunity Charter School is unique among charter schools in its commitment to "inclusive" education--teaching both general education students and students with special needs. For admissions, the school conducts two separate lotteries, one for the general population, the other for special needs students, who make up about 48 percent of the student population at the school. There are 18 kids in classes, all of which have both a teacher and an assistant. In addition, on each grade the school has placed a social worker and a speech and language therapist. They work with children in their classrooms; no kids are pulled out for special services. Most students come from the neighborhood and most enter middle school with weak academic skills, administrators said.
The school's focus on the special needs of every child is not surprising because the co-directors, Betty Marsella and Leonard Goldberg, both have a strong background in special education. Together they decided to run a school based on Schools Attuned, a program, run by a not-for-profit organization, to give schools the knowledge and skills to work successfully with children with learning difficulties. A Schools Attuned trainer works on site to help the faculty build on the 35 hours of training required to be a teacher or principal in the Schools Attuned initiative.
At Opportunity each incoming child receives an education plan, which is usually developed the summer before he or she enters. The focus is on the student's strengths as observed by teachers, parents, and the child him- or herself. The aim is to learn how the student acquires information and to identify "areas of struggle." After the information is gathered, all concerned parties meet to discuss what techniques should be employed to help the child succeed.
The school uses a behavior management strategy in which teachers respond quickly to inappropriate behavior. But, says Marsella, the accent is on teaching a better way, not on punishment. Kids who misbehave spend their time in the "safe space"--the detention or suspension room--and while there, they do school work and write a reflection on why they misbehaved and what they can do to improve.
Founded in September 2004 as a middle school, it planned to expand to include a full high school program, beginning with a new 9th grade in fall 2006. Middle schoolers will automatically be accepted by the high school, but outsiders will be considered only if there are places available.
The school pledges to get most of its students placed in post-high-school education, either college or a vocational program. The teaching we observed was structured and held the children's interest. It used progressive approaches, such as cooperative learning and teaching math through math toys called "manipulatives." Kids take two periods of language arts and two of math in groups organized by student ability. Music and art are not tracked.
The school day is long. Many children arrive for breakfast at 7:30 a.m., and all take classes from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
After school: About two thirds of Opportunity students participate in a program of test prep, homework, and clubs on topics like African dance, photography, jazz, and basketball. Opportunity was number one in the charter school basketball league when we visited.
The school, which had been located in a limited space on the top floor of PS 92 in Harlem, moved into the PS 241, STEM Institute building. The space is also shared with another charter school, Harlem Success Academy 4.
Admissions: A lottery is held in April. Priority is given to District 3 residents. (Judy Baum, March 2006' location updated 2012)