Benjamin Banneker Academy
Brooklyn NY 11205
Challenging academics & welcoming environment in Africa-themed school
Some classes lack spark
Benjamin Banneker is an academically challenging school with an African theme and a warm, supportive environment.
Students arrive at the school performing at a high level and are accepted into one of four programs - humanities, media communication, pre-engineering or pre-medicine. Many lessons we observed were creative and encouraged student participation. African and African-American themes are interwoven with a traditional curriculum.
A sense of community pervades the school. Students, staff and administrators smile and say good morning as they pass in the hallways. Class changes are relaxed and orderly. Students feel safe and respected. "If I stopped a senior in the hall and asked, he would probably help me," said a 9th grader, with a hint of wonder.
Still, some of the classrooms lacked the energy and participation you would expect in such a selective school. An A.P. teacher animatedly related a lesson while two students dozed with their heads on their desks. The heads came up, however, as soon as they saw the principal. Attendance, 89% for the 2010-2011 school year, is lower than at other selective schools although at the beginning of the 2011-2012 year, it had come up to over 90%.
Deonca Renee is the third principal since Banneker opened in 2003. She did her student teaching at the school, became a math teacher, and moved up to assistant principal after going through the Leadership Academy. She has an informal and warm approach and greeted many students by name.
Although the school has grown much larger than its leadership would like, Renee said that students with different backgrounds and interests are still able to find their place. "We still have that feeling of every child belongs," she said.
The mostly black staff emphasizes African-American artists, scientists and writers while also teaching the standard curriculum. Students go on trips to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and to an African country. "It's not to separate them from anyone," Renee explained, while emphasizing that students of all races were welcome. "It's about knowing what their ancestors went through and their value in the world and in the community."
Students said they appreciated the fact that they were given a good measure of freedom as long as they kept their grades up. They described discipline as fair, although teachers reported a decline of order and discipline on the 2011 Environmental Survey.
The former factorybuilding has some constraints: there is no auditorium where the whole school can gather, the cafeteria holds 250 students forcing four lunch periods and the gym holds a maximum of 400 standing.
Importance is given to the arts as well as academics. Students can earn an Advanced Regents degree in dance. The art studio is a light airy space decorated with student work. A mock television studio located in the basement allows students to learn video making and participate in a citywide film festival, which Banneker students have won several times.
A very active kinship association takes the place of a parent association and organizes town hall meetings, health events and community meals for kids in the throes of Regents preparation on Saturdays.
College admissions: The school has a guidance counselor devoted solely to college counseling. Alumnae come in to talk with students, and the school helps out with scholarship applications and arranges college tours. Many students go to SUNY schools, such as Albany, Buffalo and Stonybrook. Historically black colleges are also popular, such as Howard, Morehouse and Spelman. Some student get into elitecolleges such as Princeton and Brown, but financial barriers often compel them to attend less pricey schools, the principal said.
Admissions: Students must have an 80 average and score 3 or 4 on state reading and math exams, although some exceptions are made. Residents of Districts 13, 14, 15, and 16 have priority. There are many more applicants than seats. (Meredith Kolodner, January 2012)
About the students
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Programs and Admissions
For students interested in all facets of learning; extensive literary, writing, and research courses to sample; interdisciplinary curriculum that includes technology, humanities, and social sciences.
A hands-on approach to understanding mass media; opportunities offered to develop career skills in video production, journalism, media arts, and technology, with internships in various media outlets.
Training related to the field of engineering; courses in math and science and the requirement of maintaining an 80 or above average in these areas.
An introduction to the health professions; intensive coursework in math and science and exposure to various opportunities in the medical field.
Advanced Placement (AP) courses
AP Biology, AP Calculus, AP English, AP Music Theory, AP World History
Boys PSAL teams
Baseball, Basketball, Bowling, Cross Country, Fencing, Indoor Track, Soccer
Girls PSAL teams
Basketball, Fencing, Outdoor Track, Soccer, Softball, Tennis, Volleyball