Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School (CASA)
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Strong sense of community; engaging student work; emphasis on S.T.E.A.M
No foreign language instruction
The Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School (CASA) is a nurturing place with strong leadership and engaging work. In classes and activities, students are encouraged to think big, explore their interests and value their community.
We visited CASA on the day of its annual Black History Month celebration, where the school's theme of social action was on full display. Founding principal Jamaal Bowman led off the program in the auditorium by reciting the lyrics to the rap "The Racist;" children sang, danced and performed skits on stage. During a particularly poignant moment, a staff member spoke about her cousin, Kalief Browder, who committed suicide after his release from Rikers Island where he was held for three years without being charged or tried. The staffer had come across a girl's research project on Browder displayed in the hallway and wanted to thank her and the school for honoring his memory.
Bowman is highly-regarded by teachers and parents, based on their responses to the NYC School Survey. A former guidance counselor, teacher, and dean of students at The High School of Art and Technology in Manhattan, Bowman is a critic of high-stakes tests and their impact on students of color. He advises parents on their rights to opt their children out of the exams and is a proponent of using other forms of assessments such as student presentations, research papers and in-depth projects, which we saw in abundance during our visit.
There's a big emphasis on S.T.E.A.M (science, technology, engineering, art and math). Students take more than the typical five classes per week in math and science, they learn computer programming and everyone participates in the weekly genius hour, when kids explore topics of their own choosing.
By 8th grade students are tackling complex work. As part of their study of genetics, 8th-graders map out their dominant and recessive inherited traits and write papers on topics such as "Mutating Genes to Cure Diseases." After reading Of Mice and Men, they examine the theme of power in the novel by creating colorful flip-books detailing which characters exercised power to their advantage.
English and social studies are taught in a combined, double-period class led by two teachers--one specializing in English and the other in social studies. While one teacher works with the bulk of the class, another works with a small group of kids.
Teachers do not shy away from difficult topics. Students examine the theme of personal identity and how it impacts our perceptions when reading the essay, "Little Things are Big;" they read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and then draft arguments for or against banning it in schools because of its mature content.
Elective classes are offered in music, chorus, art, creative writing and Beat production. Onsite after-school activities include tutoring, sports and arts.
The school does not offer foreign language instruction, opting to teach computer programming instead.
Each Friday the entire school participates in community circles, where students speak out on personal and social matters such as the importance of rap, growing up without a father or grappling with emotions after a fellow student is badly injured in an accident.
The school is housed in the Rosa Parks Educational Complex, a large, contemporary building it shares with PS 189 (Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Elementary School) and a program run by District 75, the citywide district for students with severe disabilities. Cornerstone Academy elementary and middle schools operate independent of each other.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school offers self-contained and ICT classes as well as SETSS. There are two full-time guidance counselors and a social worker on staff—a lot for a small school of fewer than 300 students.
ADMISSIONS: Priority to students from Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Elementary, then to District 11 students or residents who sign in at an event. The school typically has space for students from across District 11. (Laura Zingmond, February 2017)Read more