Brooklyn Charter School
Brooklyn NY 11206
Music, dance and wide-ranging science explorations
Reading scores could be better
Tiny Brooklyn Charter School honors Kenyan traditions, is powered by dance and the percussive beat of samba music, and also has a strong science focus. Children gather for a morning circle called "Harambee" meaning "all pull together" in Swahili. Two to three times a week, children dance, sing and play instruments in well-equipped studios. Each spring, the school also ropes off the block it sits on for a festival featuring song, food and dance wrapped up inside a science topic kids have studied for months. "We bring our learning out into the street," said founding principal Omigbade Escayg (pronounced "Ess-Sky").
"Mr. Omi," as the kids call him, is a graduate of the inventive Bank Street College of Education. Trinidadian by birth, he is both a musician and a qualified marine research biologist. He leads the school's Batucada percussion ensemble and guides its in-depth approach to science.
Science instruction themes span several months; they focus on a single topic. During the "Mariposa Festival" one year (mariposa means "butterfly" in Spanish), for example, each child received a butterfly larva and explored butterflies through the lenses of literature, math and science. They named the body parts of butterflies, and studied metamorphosis, migration and butterflies in mythology. It's small wonder that even though the school doesn't employ a science teacher, student science scores are great.
Reading scores, however, are disappointing, while math scores are average. In response, math classes are over an hour long, and instruction in writing also receives extra attention.
The music room is equipped with keyboards and drums. The dance studio has mirrors and a tap dance floor that's a gift from actor Tony Danza. Children sample ballet, modern, Afro-Caribbean and Latin dance styles. Third through 5th graders work with Harlem Samba, a Brazilian percussion ensemble at Frederick Douglass Academy, to prepare for each spring festival.
Opened in 2000, Brooklyn Charter moved to the third floor of PS 23 in 2004; it was the first charter in the city to share a building with a district school. The school is located across the street from the public housing in Marcy Houses and is near several homeless shelters; it also borders a gentrifying neighborhood area. While there are three kindergarten classes, in the upper grades class size is as small as 14 students, reflecting family decisions to place older children in other schools. "It's a really competitive world in terms of charters," the principal said. "We've had to find ways to stay alive."
A new dean is helping teachers maintain better discipline and order, a need reflected on school satisfaction surveys. One mid-morning, as some kids began to yawn, we saw a teacher ask his students to stand up for an impromptu stretch. "We have a lot of youngsters here who need counseling," said Escayg.
Special education: Team-taught classes are available in some grades for children with special needs.
Admissions: A lottery is held in April. Priority is given to residents of District 14, where the school is located. The waiting list typically tops 300 names (Lydie Raschka, October 2014)