Unity Prep Charter School
Brooklyn NY 11221
Progressive education with strong disciplinary focus
Test scores are still low
Unity Preparatory Charter School, opened in 2013 in rapidly gentrifying Bedford-Stuyvesant, blends many of the best practices of traditional charter schools with a rich progressive education. Its administration has impressive credentials; Principal and Founder Josh Beauregard is finishing doctoral work at Harvard Universitys Graduate School of Education.
Unity Prep, which opened with middle school grades, is expanding to become a 6-12 school by 2020. The middle school shares an aging building with PS 44 The Marcus Garvey School. Relations between the two schools seem amiable; several PS 44 students each year go on to middle school at Unity Prep and the schools hold a joint Black History Month celebration. The high school opened with a 9th grade, sharing space with Brownsville Academy High School. It hopes to complete construction on a new high school building by 2020, DNA Info reported.
Though classrooms are somewhat poorly lit, they are decorated with student art and academic work. The school does not have a proper science lab, but the science classroom houses the schools impressive pet collection.
Many Unity Prep students enter the school with test scores well below grade level and the school struggles to raise them: There is an academic summer academy plus after-school and Saturday tutoring. College preparation is a constant mantra.
Student advisories, like homerooms but focused on guidance and mentoring, are small (averaging about 17 students) with two teachers per class. Each advisory has daily and weekly class goals based on a database of scores from the previous day covering class work, behavior and preparation. Classes are encouraged to improve their overall scores through weekly incentives such as casual dress Fridays.
Students begin their mornings at 7:30 with mindfulness training, meditating in classrooms with their advisors or in larger groups in the gymnasium. After-school activities are mandatory; the schools wrestling team has been particularly successful. The school day ends between 3 and 4:30 pm, with study hall offered two days a week until 6 pm.
Discipline is strongly emphasized, and students are expected to be silent during class transitions. Classrooms were uniformly focused and orderly. One history teacher exhorted students to be tall, proud and silent. Beauregard sees the disciplinary code as a form of empowerment, noting that it helps kids succeed as scholars and citizens.
Like much of the school, the discipline code has a progressive twist; detention, for example, has been rebranded reflection to prompt students to take responsibility for their actions. Unity students wear uniforms with the school emblem, which was designed by the artist also responsible for the chivalric crests on the television series Game of Thrones.
Students receive clear guidance about what they are expected to master in each class each day and during the school year. Teachers attempt to connect academic material to the childrens own experiences. Classes have a strong social justice emphasis. A 6th-grade English class reading Lois Lowrys The Giver expanded the discussion of the dystopic novel to include stop-and-frisk. A 7th-grade history class began with the chant No history; no self; know history; know self, (the history departments guiding ethic) before working on persuasive essays. All students participate in a year-end showcase to present their academic accomplishments before an audience of teachers, parents and others.
Students take technology, art and Spanish in a rotation during the schools trimesters.
Unity Prep is off to a strong start. One student told us that his grades had gone up once he entered the school. They really pay attention to what I am trying to say and they really support you. A community coordinator provides support for families in such areas as computer skills and social services referrals.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Unity has a large percentage of special education students. The school emphasizes ICT (integrated-co-teaching) classes that blend general education and special needs students. Beauregard wants to be sure that every kid regardless of circumstances can be educated.
ADMISSIONS: Admission is by lottery with preference given to siblings, then District 13 students. (Suzannah Tartan-Hunt, November, 2014; updated high school information 2017)