Bronx Park Middle School
Interesting program features unusual projects; warm atmosphere
The building has a history of poor performance and discipline problems
Opened in September 2012, Bronx Park offers a close-knit atmosphere and attention to childrens social and emotional development. Many students have struggled academically, but the principal is betting that hands-on projects will engage children and improve their academic performance.
Bronx Park, whose planning was led by principal Dillon Prime, structures learning around multi-week units, many related to developing sustainable careers. One entitled "Design Construction and Power" looked at how what people build reflects who they are. In math, students used fractions and decimals as they developed blueprints and, in science, they considered simple machines. The 6th graders also examined their own neighborhood, reading and analyzing passages on health care and education in the Bronx. At the end of the unit, each student developed a plan for a community school.
Another unit plans to look 500 years into the future, when deteriorating conditions on Earth force people to find a new place to live. At the end, students will design their own colony, incorporating what they learned about a range of topics from the solar system to leadership.
Prime thinks such a curriculum helps give children a sense of control. "It's their opportunity to be the experts that change the world," he says. The school has embraced a concept called Flow, seeking to create projects that so engage students that they lose track of time and themselves.
In class, some students worked intently on projects -- one boy was quick to describe his invention of a machine to feed hamsters -- and participated in classroom discussions, such as one on the core principles of their imaginary school. "Fun, wealth and security," one offered. Other students seemed easily distracted.
Many students arrive at Bronx Park reading a year or more below grade level and some struggle with basic arithmetic. The school offers a Saturday academy and after-school help and supplements regular math classes, which focused on more advanced topics, with a class period of math games.
All students meet with advisory groups of about 15 every day often to discuss issues of concern to adolescents, such as cyber bullying and peer pressure. A social worker is available to mediate conflicts, and Prime says the focus has proved successful.
At the time of our visit, the schedule at Bronx Park concentrated academic work in the morning, along with breakfast in a reading class at around 10:30 a.m. After a late lunch, with time outside in good weather, students return for their advisories, math games, academic help and extra curricular activities. All teachers sponsor a club, and virtually all students participate in at least one. Arts clubs, such as drama and hip-hop, help to compensate for the lack of arts classes.
The building that houses the new school has a history of poor performance and discipline problems, but Bronx Park seemed orderly on our visit. As Aspire Preparatory Middle School i s phased out, Bronx Park will occupy the entire third floor in the Frank D. Whalen building, which has seen several schools come and go. Bronx Green Middle School and Pelham Academy of Academics and Community Achievement occupy the other floors. The schools remain fairly separate but share the library, cafeteria, auditorium, gym and weight room.
Special education: The school offers team teaching and other services but no self-contained classes.
Admission: Students who live within the zone apply to their favorite schools on the Whalen campus and are assigned to the particular school by lottery, with their preferences weighted. (Gail Robinson, February 2013)
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Bronx NY 10467