Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School
BRONX NY 10460 Map
Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School
FEBRUARY 2008 UPDATE: To serve the needs of the many students who start school performing below grade level, Fannie Lou Hamer has shifted to an elementary school model; 7th graders stay with the same teacher they had in 6th grade, and no longer switch teachers throughout the day. "We totally revamped the 7th grade," said Principal Lorraine Chanon during a telephone interview. "The creation of a small, intimate community leads to deeper understanding of their needs," said Chanon, noting that student behavior has improved since the change in structure. The 8th grade follows a middle school format with students traveling to different classes.
To help students struggling with social and emotional hardships, the school hired two social workers, including one fluent in Spanish, who provide individual, group, and family counseling. A new partnership with the Children's Aid Society sponsors an additional social worker as well as health, dental, and mental health services.
The school still uses a lot of hands-on projects to engage students, Chanon said. In math, for example, she said students design lesson plans to teach decimals and fractions and create textbook chapters on polynomials. An educator from The Salvadori Center, a not-for-profit organization that teaches principles of architecture and engineering through "real world" construction projects, meets with teachers weekly to help them conduct engaging activities, such as a ten-week project devoted to building model bridges or skyscrapers, she said.
Seventh graders spend four days camping in Connecticut to study team-building and science, and along with 8th graders, take a career planning class. Through a sponsorship from State Senator Ruben Diaz, 6th graders take a day trip snowboarding.
According to Chanon, the school welcomed a donation of 40 boxes of books from a Long Island high school and has a "brand, spanking new playground," with basketball courts and a football field.
Special Education: The school offers SETSS (special education teacher support services), a self-contained Spanish bilingual class for student with special needs only and collaborative team taught (CTT) classes, where two teachers work with a group of special- and general education students.
ESL: The school provides individual support to its English Language Learners (ELL) as well as those not classified as ELL but still needing extra support.
Admissions: District 12 middle school choice process. (Vanessa Witenko, telephone interview, February 2008)
NOVEMBER 2005 REVIEW: Opened in 2004, Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School is located in a dreary area of the South Bronx, but is housed in the sweet CS 66 building, which features colorfully painted halls inside and flower gardens outside. Across the street is Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, its older sibling by 10 years, noted for its success in helping struggling students to graduate. These two schools have a close alliance, and the middle school takes on the same mission as the high school--to prepare students for graduation and college.
Principal Lorraine Chanon, along with her colleagues at the high school, envisioned the middle school as a vehicle for eroding the consistently low academic achievement in the neighborhood, by reaching at-risk students earlier with extra support. Her zeal was prompted by her work as a staff developer at the high school, where, she says, she witnessed too many students arriving unprepared for the 9th grade. The hope is that the middle school will equip students for a smooth transition to the high school across the street.
The middle school faces some of the same serious challenges confronting the high school. Many entering students have been held over in previous grades. Homelessness and domestic violence are just a couple of the daunting social problems prevalent in the neighborhood. Several children told us they had seen violent incidents near the school, such as street fights. The emotional toll taken by the difficulties students experience at home and in the neighborhood surfaces in the classrooms at times. In one class, the teacher halted the lesson because a few simmering students vented their anger in inappropriate ways; one, for example banged her hand on the desk from time to time with no warning or apparent reason. Educators for Social Responsibility, a national, not-for-profit education reform group that promotes character-building in the schools, is helping teachers handle conflict resolution. Students also meet in "advisories," small groups where they can discuss personal or school issues with a faculty member.
The curriculum emphasizes literacy and math, and the school day is scheduled so that big blocks of time are devoted exclusively to these subjects; all students spend half a day, everyday, on mathematics, reading, and writing. Math teachers assign creative challenges; students in one class we visited were asked to come up with equations using only the number "4" and any mathematical operation to get answers of 1 to 20. Another class worked on a "word find" puzzle, but with numbers.
Once a teacher at both Central Park East Elementary and Central Park East Secondary School in Manhattan, Chanon incorporates some of those schools' signature progressive curriculum into the 6th grade program at Fanny Lou Hamer. She has also hired some Central Park East teachers. Two afternoons a week, 6th graders are scheduled for "project time," when, using a variety of different materials, they work on their choice of a creation that truly interests them. The day we visited, some students were laboring in pairs to build a house out of Legos. One child created a small, two-player soccer table-game with magnets, while another was absorbed in a science project involving a small light bulb with a battery and wires. We were impressed with the teacher, who has had 25 years of teaching experience. When the projects were done, she told us, the students would present the finished products to the rest of the class, using maps, blueprints, or writing to describe how they carried out their work.
Like most new schools, Fannie Lou Hamer has a few wrinkles that still need ironing out. While there are libraries in all the classrooms, for example, not all of them are well stocked. And the withdrawal of a community partner in the school's second year meant the elimination of an after-school program and gym classes--an absence profoundly felt by some students. Fortunately, the Children's Aid Society plans to step in and provide a range of services for students, including after-school and physical education.
Special education: Students with special needs spend most of their day in classes with general education students, but are pulled out for instruction in literacy and math.
Admissions: District 12 middle school choice process. Student who attend this school and place Fannie Lou Hammer high school as their first choice on the high school application are guaranteed admissions. (Catherine Man, November 2005)