Bronx Writing Academy
BRONX NY 10456 Map
Bronx Writing Academy
DECEMBER 2009 UPDATE: As of this school year, Kamar Samuels, a former assistant principal at the school, has replaced Nick Marinacci as principal.
JUNE 2005/MARCH 2006 REVIEW: With fresh new teachers, a fresh new principal, and a fresh new concept, the Bronx Writing Academy was created in 2004 when MS 22 in the Morrisania section of the South Bronx was split into two schools. Beginning with a full complement of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders who had been enrolled in MS 22 (a 5-8 school), the Bronx Writing Academy, as its name indicates, seeks to make kids proficient writers.
Principal Nick Marinacci, the energetic founder of the school, said its mission is "to support academic and personal development through [a] rigorous writing curriculum and a writing task in every subject area." In its first year, the school devoted one extra period a week to writing, but Marinacci is aiming to up the time to three extra periods. Students will focus in large part on the mechanics of writing and how to write for tests, areas he perceives as weaknesses.
In 2004 MS 22 was deemed an "Impact" school, part of a citywide initiative bringing extra security guards to the city's most dangerous schools. During our visit, numerous guards were stationed at the school, mostly congregating downstairs. One told us that the building "had straightened out a lot." Students in the Bronx Writing Academy follow a dress code of white tops and blue bottoms.
Housed on the third floor of an old brick building, the school exhibits ample signs of its writing emphasis. Quotes such as "Writing is the most disciplined form of thinking" are posted to inspire students. Some of the English teachers display their own quotes on the board every day. One faculty member was thrilled to see a Charles Dickens' quote coming back at him in a student essay about a Walt Whitman poem. "It's sort of exciting as a teacher to seem them implement what they see on the board," he said.
It is too early to predict the success of the fledgling school, but standardized test results for spring 2005 were encouraging. The percentage of students reading and writing at or above grade level on the exams went up seven points from 20% to 27% from spring 2004. "It's baby steps but it's the first year of the school," said the teacher.
Expectations are high for students' behavior and academic performance. The day of our visit, an English teacher was sorely disappointed with several kids in his homeroom who had not completed their homework, and he let them know it, lecturing them in no uncertain terms. The school responds swiftly to misbehavior: An assistant principal insisted that one rushing student who was skipping stairs go up and come down again twice on his way to lunch. Other penalties are clearly posted: "3x late to school = 2-hour detention after school."
Teachers work together and even drop in to help one another when they have a free period. We saw a math teacher working individually with students in another teacher's math class during his lesson planning period. Also in the classroom was a mentor teacher who is assisting new faculty members; half the faculty is brand new to the building. "Everyone who is on staff chose to come here and we chose them," said the principal, who sees this as a big advantage for the school.
The school enrolls students with a wide range of abilities; one 8th grader came in not reading at all, his teacher said, but he has progressed to the 2nd/3rd grade level. Some students in a 7th grade class we saw were reading chapter books, targeted at younger readers, from the Cam Jansen detective series, while classmates read Lois Lowry's The Giver, typically a middle school book. Writing we saw posted around the school contained many grammatical errors, but we also noticed well thought out short stories with sophisticated plots and dialogue. Students made astute observations in class discussions about verse. Responding to the poem "We wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar, one student commented that people wear masks by "showing happiness when we ain't happy." Students placed second in the region in a poetry slam.
During its first year, the school offered few extras no music, not much art, and no science lab. But the students did go on a number of field trips, an important enrichment for children who, the assistant principal said, otherwise rarely leave the Bronx. Among the sites they visited were the New York Hall of Science and the Brooklyn Bridge. And, in a glimpse of what their future could hold, some students went on a memorable trip upstate to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where they worked alongside college students constructing a bridge with 30 straws and paper clips. In a bulletin board display about the trip, one student wrote he had been impressed by the sight in the student union building of students studying even though "they didn't have to."
The old junior high school building in which the school is housed is somewhat depressing and worn, although the floor housing the Writing Academy is more cheerful and enlivened by student work. The lower floors of the building were noisy, with doors banging and some adults shouting, the day of our visit.
Special education: There are five "self-contained" classes only for students with special education needs. Another 50 children receive special education services.
After school: Three days a week, the school offers academic support. There are some recreational activities such as sports teams as well. There is also a technology program called MOUSE Squad. In 2006 this program received the "MOUSE Squad of the Year" award and was honored with a proclamation from the Bronx Borough President - Adolpho Carrion Jr.
Admissions: There is middle school choice in the district. About 75 students selected Bronx Writing as their number one choice for the 2004-2005 school year. (Pamela Wheaton, June 2005/ updated March 2006)