Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School (BUGS)
Brooklyn NY 11215
Gardening, recycling and outdoor learning
Teacher turnover and growing pains
Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School (BUGS) is a small middle school founded in 2013 by parents, educators and community members who wanted a school focused on environmental sustainability both in the classroom and out-of-doors. It’s a tall order and in its first few years the school had significant staff turnover as the administration worked to find educators who were both enthusiastic about the school’s mission and successful classroom teachers.
“It took us a bit to stabilize our staff. We had teachers who were gung-ho about the mission but not so experienced in the classroom,” said Principal Linda Rosenbury. “[Now] we prioritize more experience in the classroom.”
On the positive side, the school has a strong sense of community and a friendly atmosphere, with plants in stairwells and classrooms, a small garden of wild plants out front, and a commitment to recycling and composting. The student body is racially and economically mixed, and children come from all over Brooklyn, including Canarsie and East New York.
The school year begins in late August, with 6th graders and new 7th graders starting a few days earlier, allowing them to get acclimated to the school culture. The school day runs from 8 am to 4 pm. As many as 50 children come at 7:30 am for breakfast or a half hour of recess, eager to connect with their friends, the principal said. Students learn to meditate and have 15 minutes of “quiet time” twice daily. “They reset their minds and energy,” said one of the school’s co-founders Susan Tenner.
Sixth graders take charge of a small garden of basil, kale, lettuce and other vegetables which are sometimes served in the cafeteria’s salad bar. Students built a greenhouse out of discarded clear plastic garden. Seventh graders test the water quality in nearby Prospect Park Lake and the Gowanus Canal.
Eighth graders explore the theme of urbanization. Students visited stores in Bedford Stuyvesant to create a daily meal plan for families living on $8 a day. They contrasted gentrification—which displaces the poor—with revitalization, using the example of Industry City in Sunset Park with its art galleries and wine shops alongside job training programs for low-income residents. All 8th graders take the Living Environment Regents exam; one class of 8th graders takes the Algebra 1 Regents.
Student may take a prep course for the specialized high school exam during an “enhancement” period after lunch. There is both a social worker and a guidance counselor who helps with high school admissions. Graduates attend a variety of highly competitive high schools including Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, Bard and Millennium Brooklyn. The largest number choose to go Murrow.
BUGS draws students with a range of academic skills, a strength that also presents a challenge. Teachers make a concerted effort to accommodate children of different abilities through small advisory sessions and plenty of group work.
In its first years, the school had issues with discipline. Staff have adopted a behavioral system in which students receive “additions” for positive behavior and deductions for infractions, which the principal says is making a difference.
BUGS shares the former Bishop Ford High School with a Pre-K Center and, as of September 2017, MS 442, a small District 15 middle school. The leased space also represents a challenge: there is no library, and the school has not secured permission to build a large garden.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Three of four classrooms on every grade are co-taught by a general education and a special education teacher. Some parents and teachers complain that students don’t get enough support and say the school needs more teachers trained in special education. The principal said the school puts a lot of effort into training for co-teachers.
ADMISSIONS: Lottery. Although the school gives preference to District 15, about half the students come from other Brooklyn districts. A weighted lottery gives preference to students who are learning English as a New Language, although very few are enrolled. (Pamela Wheaton, May 2017)