Expeditionary Learning School for Community Leaders
Brooklyn NY 11214
Interesting projects and strong college focus
Still trying to overcome buildings bad reputation, metal detectors
The warm and welcoming Expeditionary Learning School for Community Leaders has a team of dedicated staff working hard to provide a diverse student body with an engaging education that prepares them for the real world. Leaders, as the school is known, expects all students to go to college and most will be the first in their family to do so.
The small school opened in 2007 and took a few years to find its feet. Test scores, attendance and graduation rates were low until a shake up of staff and leadership in 2011. Since then, Leaders increased the four-year graduation rate from 41.2 to 81.2 percent. Twenty-two percent of students graduate with strong enough grades to avoid remedial classes at CUNY.
Leaders is an Expeditionary Learning school, embracing hands-on and practical learning activities. In 2014, Leaders adopted "performance-based assessment tasks" (PBATs). Students are exempt from all Regents exams except English. Instead, they are assessed on analytical papers that they present to peers, teachers and parents at the end of every semester. PBATs are designed to mirror real-world tasks and college assessments; for example, students frequently write six-twelve-page papers. Principal David O'Hara says PBATs transformed the school culture because it "upped the game around our rigor." The hope is that the resulting skills and knowledge students develop will enable them to test out of remedial college courses.
O'Hara came to the school in 2011 after interning as resident principal at the Brooklyn Latin School. All teachers who responded to the 2014 school survey consider O'Hara an effective manager. Teachers we spoke to on our visit said they felt they had autonomy and lots of leadership opportunities. Leaders is a PROSE school, which means it has more flexibility around things like teacher evaluation than standard teachers union contracts allow.
In most classrooms we visited, students were working in groups. In English, students in "literature circles" annotated different Jacqueline Woodson books in preparation for a comparative literature essay. In algebra 2/trigonometry, students used radius and surface area to determine how packaging for different food and drink products could be made more efficient. They then wrote letters to companies like Pringles and Coca Cola making the case to change the packaging. A chemistry class investigated the impact of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") on health using pairs of frogs, rats, hamsters and fish, half of whom received water containing benzene, a toxic chemical sometimes used in fracking, a process of extracting oil and natural gas from shale.
All students take Spanish four times a week. Some native speakers are used as teacher assistants and can also take a Spanish literature elective. Other electives include art, spoken word, computer science and playwriting.
Twice a year the school holds a weeklong intensive program. Regular classes are suspended and students do in-depth studies of particular subjects. Teachers propose the intensives they would like to teach, offering courses like Game Design, The Psychology of Fear and Happy, Wild and Free: A Yoga and Dance Intensive. Freshmen spend one of these weeks at a free outdoor adventure camp run by Outward Bound. Sophomores do a college intensive that includes trips to city, state and out-of-state colleges.
Leaders works with students and families at every stage of the college and financial aid application process. There is a college room, a full-time counselor and an intensive college preparation class that starts in junior year. During Regents week, when students are on break, seniors have individual appointments with the college counselor to put together documentation for every school they are applying to. Most students go to CUNY colleges. One-third of the class of 2014 enrolled at a four-year college.
Four days a week students have "crew" (like advisory) for college preparation, team-building activities, silent reading and academic support. Older students lead weekly mentoring sessions for freshmen. The school counselor runs workshops on topics like conflict resolution. The school uses Restorative Justice, a program that addresses discipline through mechanisms like peer mediation and conversation circles.
Leaders is one of five schools in the Lafayette Educational Campus. The building has metal detectors and a lingering bad reputation that the smaller schools that replaced the now-closed Lafayette High School are trying to overcome. The building has a psychologist and social worker. All schools share the gym, weight room, large outdoor football and athletics field, cafeteria and library.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Leaders has ICT (integrated-co-teaching) classes taught by two teachers, one certified in special education to support students with IEPs (individualized education programs). Many of the classrooms we saw had several adults supporting individual students.
ADMISSIONS: Priority for students who attend an information session. Leaders attracts students from all five boroughs. (Ella Colley, March 2015)
About the students
About the school
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Programs and Admissions
Interdisciplinary college and career preparatory program using hands-on, project-based learning to develop leadership and scholarship.
Advanced Placement (AP) courses
Boys PSAL teams
Baseball, Basketball, Bowling, Cross Country, Football, Handball, Indoor Track, Outdoor Track, Soccer, Tennis, Volleyball, Wrestling
Girls PSAL teams
Badminton, Basketball, Bowling, Flag Football, Soccer, Softball, Table Tennis, Volleyball
Coed PSAL teams