Fort Greene Preparatory Academy, MS 691
Fun projects like building rockets and making guacamole
No music program; test scores need to be higher
At Fort Greene Prep, students are valued for their curiosity and enthusiasm for learning. The small middle school, which opened in 2010, serves an ethnically, academically and geographically diverse population from through District 13. Special needs kids are integrated into all classes.
“We’re unusual for a small size of school, we offer a range of experiences that meet most people’s needs,” said Paula Lettiere, the schools’ founding principal. “Our goal is to expose students in middle school to as many contexts and [as much] content as possible.”
Art and technology are a particular focus at the school which has an award-winning robotics team, a laptop cart in almost every classroom and SMARTboards. Fort Greene Prep has a partnership with NYC Technical College and NYU which offer technical support and help with the robotics team. Three years of art are built into the schedule with students able to choose whether to focus on technology, language arts or portfolio arts.
Students may take three years of Spanish instruction and choose from a range of electives. There is no music program, however.
Students wear a uniform of white polo shirts and khaki-colored bottoms. “The uniform puts them in the mindset that it’s a professional environment - you’re here to learn,” said Lettiere.
The curriculum is “inquiry-based,” the principal said, meaning that students apply their learning to real life situations. For example, they built a rocket and launched it in a safe controlled place, instead of just reading a textbook about rockets. Eighth-graders prepare dishes like guacamole and create restaurants in Spanish class. “There is so much excitement about the Spanish immersion course that it’s the most popular 8th grade elective,” the principal said.
About a quarter of the students take Regents algebra and Living Environment courses but, overall, achievement is mixed. Standardized test scores are lower than the city’s average but they are about average for the district’s middle schools.
Kids go out into the schoolyard every day at lunchtime. “We really value harnessing the natural energy that is a middle-schooler and expressing it. Getting them out in the yard every day is a way to express their energy,” the principal said.
Of the first class of graduates in 2013, 95 percent got into their first choice high school, the principal said. A few went to the specialized high school, Brooklyn Tech, and others to nearby Benjamin Banneker and Bedford Academy. The most popular choices were The Harbor School and Fashion Industries, reflecting the students’ interest in science and art.
Parents participate in special events but are less likely to come to PTA meetings. Fort Greene Prep hosts a big cultural feast before Thanksgiving and “food descends upon the building, “ says Assistant Principal Annette Schaffer. Entire families attend school dances and weekend trips to places like the New York Aquarium.
The school is housed on the third floor of PS 46. The two schools share an auditorium, cafeteria, library and large school yard. “We have a very good professional relationship,” the principal said. “It’s the best co-location I’ve worked in. We make it work with as little tension as possible.”
Special education: Full inclusion. Every section has special education students as well as students on levels 1 to 4. “It’s something our school does really well,” said the principal. “We’ve been able to receive students and their families from a deficit approach of ‘I can’t’ and take them through a supportive community into rapid growth.”
After school: Drama program with Irondale Theatre, a music ensemble, and sports including soccer, track, flat football and step.
Admissions: District 13 choice. Students who rank the school first or second on their application are interviewed, and asked to do a few tasks and talk to the staff. The school looks for students who “have curiosity and aggressiveness in learning.” (Pamela Wheaton, meeting with principal and assistant principal, August 2013)
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