The James Baldwin School: A School for Expeditionary Learning
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Rock climbing, sailing and a second chance at success
Some students want more challenge; Building undergoing repair
The James Baldwin School offers a different approach to learning that seems to work for lots of kids who have been unsuccessful elsewhere. Children practice yoga, learn to sail, go rock climbing and take classes like "Math for Social Justice," which makes math relevant to students’ lives. Teachers work to help teens get to college even if it takes more than four years.
Students are not required to take Regents exams. Instead, all 11th and 12th graders must complete “Portfolio Based Assessments” called PBATs in each class. In Math for Social Justice students created a budget for a fictional company and researched Bureau of Labor statistics, for example.
The atmosphere is orderly but relaxed. Children do not wear uniforms and teachers are on a first name basis with students, according to parent coordinator Jeanette Aybar. There are two teachers in most classrooms.
Students of different ages work together in small advisory groups called “crew”—a feature of all schools, like Baldwin, that are part of the NYC Outward Bound network. New students bond with their crew during a camping trip. Other local and farther-afield expeditions are also common, including trips to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. Crews stay together all four years.
Students transfer in to Baldwin from other high schools. Because each student may need different courses to graduate, most classes combine kids from different grades and some courses may fulfill a few requirements. “We are always looking into new ways for students to gain credits and get greater support once they are here,” Aybar said.
Many teens are overcoming enormous challenges, according to the yearly plan. Some are homeless, others come from foster care or are parents themselves. Many have had spotty attendance records and have had negative experiences with school. Although most children graduate on time, not many are ready for college-level work by the time they graduate. On school surveys, some children say they do not feel challenged in class. Teachers are working to improve instruction, according to the yearly plan.
Brady Smith, the founding principal of Validus Preparatory Academy, another expeditionary school in the Bronx, became principal in 2014.
The school, housed in the Bayard Rustin Educational Campus, is shared with five other schools. The building is undergoing an upgrade, Aybar said. The 6th floor, where all schools share space, is beautifully renovated; the floor occupied by Humanities Prep and James Baldwin, though clean, has some peeling paint.
COLLEGE ADMISSIONS: There is a full-time counselor, and an assistant from the NYC Outward Bound network. About half of the graduates go on to attend four-year colleges, another 40 percent to two-year colleges. Acceptances include Howard University, Trinity and City University of New York schools. Some children pursue the military or work, but college remains an option if they want to pursue it. “Graduates always come back to work with our college office,” Aybar said.
ADMISSIONS: A transfer school, Baldwin attracts students from a wide range of schools, including charters, larger high schools, and selective schools like Millenium and Brooklyn Latin. Admissions periods take place in December and January. Aybar said there is an emphasis on writing. Students are interviewed and asked to give a writing sample. (Lydie Raschka, web reports and interview, May 2018; updated Aug. 2020)Read more