Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies
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Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies
The Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies was founded in 2001 as the upper school for Brooklyn New School, and it shares a large century old building with that popular progressive elementary school. BCS added high school grades in 2005 and graduated its first high school class in 2009. The school has a nice racial balance, and children from different backgrounds seem to get along.
In the middle school grades kids work in groups on nearly all their projects, whether they are making balsa wood towers (and testing their strength with a machine that simulates an earthquake); analyzing the causes of illegal immigration to the United States from Mexico; or producing radio news shows for WBCS, the students' own radio station that broadcasts to the classrooms. Every grade has "crew," similar to advisory, where students learn skills such as how to organize homework. "Crew" comes from the slogan "We're all crew, not passengers," designed to make students think of themselves as active learners.
The middle school has a good band, led by a conservatory-trained teacher; a photography program in which kids learn to develop their own pictures in a real darkroom; and a dance program that includes visits from the African-American troupe Urban Bush Women. Computer technology is integrated into the curriculum. In one geometry class, for example, students plotted polygons on computer screens using a computer program to assist them.
There is a wide range of abilities within a class, with some 6th grade children reading very easy books more commonly read by 2nd or 3rd graders and others reading books typically read by adults. Principal Alyce Barr is proud of the fact that the weakest readers may make three or four years' progress in a single year. The Department of Education gave the school an "A" on its 2012 progress reports, reflecting the students' gains, although middle school test scores are somewhat lower than average for the city. The school doesn't offer separate honors classes, but high-achieving students are encouraged to do honors-level work by completing more complex projects.
The school has a strong teaching staff and strong leadership. Barr, a founding parent at BNS, where she also taught, oversees the whole school. Wanda Barbot, a long-time BNS parent and teacher who has a good feel for the culture of the school, is assistant principal for the middle school; Scill (short for Priscilla) Chan, who studied environmental science at Harvard and taught at Manhattan Center for Math and Science high school, is assistant principal for the high school. Barbot is bilingual in Spanish and Chan is bilingual in Cantonese.
About half of the 8th graders stay for high school; those who leave have been accepted at top schools such as LaGuardia, Brooklyn Tech and Beacon. There are some engaging projects. For example, in the 11th grade, students have interesting internships at local businesses: a boy and a girl worked at the Food Network; they displayed their cooking talents on a special show posted on the network's website. Students may take classes at The New School Institute for Urban Education, learning alongside undergraduates.
Big kids work with little kids in a building-wide initiative called the Unity Project: high school students may read aloud to elementary school students, or help them build LEGOs, or supervise their woodworking projects. High school students are trained as babysitters providing a useful service for elementary school parents and building a sense of community.
Special education: About 30 percent of students receive special education services. Children with special needs are fully integrated into regular classes, assisted by a teacher certified in special education. Half of the middle school classes and one-quarter of the high school classes have Collaborative Team Teaching, in which two teachers work together in a class that mixes special needs kids with those in general education.
After-school: BCS has a wide variety of after-school activities including Lego Robotics, visual arts, boatbuilding, chorus, step team, track and girls and boys basketball teams.
Admission: Middle school admission is generally limited to District 15. Prospective students are asked to participate in a sample class. For high school, priority is given to current 8th graders and then to students who attend an information session or tour the school.
College admission: Students visit colleges to get a sense of campus life. On one such visit, students spent three days and two nights at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, observing and sketching birds with college scientists. In 2012 five seniors won coveted Posse scholarships, more than any other city high school, BCS college counselor Josh Steckel said in an email. Nearly all graduates go to college including CUNYs and SUNYs and many small private schools such as Colby, Skidmore, Bard, Wheaton and Sarah Lawrence.
This school is included in New York City's Best Public Middle Schools. (Clara Hemphill, March 2008; updated February 2012)