Central Queens Academy Charter School
Queens NY 11373
High achievement for children learning English
Two locations three miles apart; cramped buildings far from subway
Central Queens Academy Charter School, founded in 2012, is designed to teach English to the children of immigrants and to prepare them for academically demanding high schools. The student body is a beautiful mosaic representing more than 35 different countries and languages including Spanish, Chinese and Bengali.
Scholars (as students are known) are attentive, engaged and respectful. Children from different cultures seem accepting and eager to learn from one another. In a social studies project, scholars presented Power Point projects on a country, many choosing to report about their country of origin. Classmates were fascinated by one boy’s report on Tibet, which included details about its fractious relationship with China. They followed up eagerly with questions about self-immolation and the Dalai Lama (“He’s basically the pope to us,” the presenter explained.)
An interdisciplinary class gives scholars a chance to combine math, science, reading and social studies in different hands-on experiments such as bridge-building. The day of our visit, teams were working out how to drop an egg without having it break; some built cages, others parachutes, in a lesson that incorporated elements of physics, the teacher said. Most 8th graders take the Earth Science Regents exam but not Algebra.
On our visit, boys and girls of every hue sat together laughing, joking and playing cards during their lunch period. “I love it here,” one teacher said. “Everyone is so supportive and the administration is very involved.”
Principal Ashish Kapadia, the founder of University Prep Charter High School in the Bronx, takes pride in the gains made by his pupils, some of whom begin 5th grade reading at a 2nd or 3rd grade level. Graduates attend some of the city’s most prestigious high schools such as Brooklyn Tech, Bronx Science, Scholars’ Academy and Townsend Harris.
What’s the secret? “We like to think we’re pretty nurturing and we get to know every scholar,” Kapadia said. “We have interventions and extra pieces for when a scholar struggles in the classroom.” All instruction is in English and students get support in ENL (English as a New Language) in small groups in and out of the classroom.
Students who fall behind get one-on-one tutoring or help in small groups during daily end-of-day “office hours.” That’s also when enrichment periods are held for physical education, music, art and other subjects. Most classes are one hour long, but in the interest of promoting literacy to the many new-English speakers, English Language Arts classes last two hours. Progress reports with grades and teacher comments are sent home every two weeks. The school day goes until 4:30 pm and the school year is five days longer than the typical public school year.
Fifth and 6th graders attend classes in a former apartment building in Elmhurst. There is only one narrow staircase throughout the three floors and fire drills are held on old fire escapes. The cafeteria is small and there is no gymnasium or outdoor yard.
Seventh and 8th graders attend classes three miles away in a former Lutheran school building in Glendale. There is no nearby subway line and most students have about a 45 minute commuting via two city buses, the principal said.
Despite the inconvenience, student attendance and punctuality are good and students are enthusiastic. Parents are active: 95 percent show up for parent-teacher conferences and some 150 show up for special school events.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: There are co-teaching and SETSS classes. The school believes in integrating students with special needs, the principal said.
ADMISSIONS: District 24 priority. English language learners are given preference for 30 percent of the seats. Siblings get priority; some children of teachers are enrolled in the school too. There is rarely space for out of district applicants. The school gets many more applicants than seats available but accepts children off the waitlist in all grades as spaces open. (Pamela Wheaton, May 2017)