Lyons Community School
Intense focus on students social and emotional well-being
High rates of chronic absenteeism
Lyons Community School provides a caring, informal and engaging environment for students who might get lost in a more traditional school. The combined middle and high school offers small classes, frequent class trips and practical projects such as woodworking to keep students engaged and attending school.
Principal Taeko Onishi, who co-founded the school with program director Jody Madell in 2007, dishes out high-fives and hugs to students. Onishi's desk is in a large open office that doubles as the staffroom. Students call Onishi and all the other staff by their first names. Lyons has low staff turnover and teachers say people work together and trust each other. Most teachers look forward to work and would recommend the school to parents, according to the 2013-2014 School Survey. Lyons is a PROSE school, which means the school has flexible union contracts that support innovative programs.
Lyons is a part of the Performance Standards Consortium, which uses performance-based assessments in place of Regents exams. Students pick topics from their classes for independent research or experiments. For example, science students built a miniature model of a green roof after months of research on things like soil and the types of plants best-adapted to the local climate.
Many students come to Lyons academically behind their peers. To address this, Lyons has an intense focus on teaching kids to read difficult texts. All students have half an hour of independent reading each morning and the school has small group support for struggling students. Classroom libraries are organized according to reading level difficulty rather than topic, and students are encouraged to challenge themselves when choosing books to read.
Lyons has high rates of chronic absenteeism, but the school offers a range of programs to engage students who might be on the verge of dropping out. "We will do anything it takes to connect," Onishi said. For example, on our visit seven struggling students were participating in a program called "The Dig." Every morning they take classes with two of the school's best teachers. In the afternoons, they do Urban Workshop, completing hands-on, practical projects like building benches for a local park. After-school activities also provide some great opportunities for Lyons students. On our visit we saw a poster that students had developed exploring different perspectives on what to do with land controlled by the city public housing authority (the school is surrounded by the massive Williamsburg Houses development).
A key part of student engagement is the school's field studies program. Students in grades 6 through 9 go on weekly excursions, such as to the Brooklyn Museum to study ancient Egypt. Onishi estimated that students go to The Metropolitan Museum of Art 50 times between 6th and 9th grades. Students in 10th to 12th grades may continue these field studies or take an elective at the school, including sculpture, painting, art history, zoology, business and baking, robotics and furniture design.
To tackle discipline problems, Lyons uses Restorative Justice, which frames all student behavior in terms of community responsibility. If a student misbehaves, it is addressed through conversation circles and reflections to identify what harm has been done and who was harmed by it. Students then take actions to directly repair this harm. Discipline issues are often referred to the "justice panel," a group of students who determine the consequences of an action after questioning the offending student and other witnesses.
Lyons shares the old IS 49 building, including its gym, cafeteria and outdoor playground, with the Green School and Brooklyn Latin. Lyons students may participate in campus-wide PSAL sports. Clubs include music, chess, dance and anime. A gender-neutral bathroom is provided to ensure students questioning their sexual identities feel comfortable.
Special education: Lyons has integrated co-teaching (ICT) classes in every grade and dedicates a lot of time to students' social and emotional development through advisories and other initiatives.
Admissions: Priority to District 14 students. Continuing 8th-grade students take priority for the high school, and more than two-thirds of middle school students continue on. For the remaining seats, admission is limited, unscreened and open to all New York City residents, with preference given to those who attend an information session. Lyons accepts transfer students in 7th, 8th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades. (Ella Colley, November 2014)
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Programs and Admissions
Boys PSAL teams
Girls PSAL teams
Cross Country, Volleyball
Brooklyn NY 11206