Lyons Community School
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Engaging work in a very supportive environment
High ratess of chronic absenteeism
Lyons Community School provides a caring, informal and engaging environment for students who might get lost in a more traditional school. The combined middle and high school offers small classes, frequent class trips and practical projects such as woodworking to keep students engaged and attending school.
Principal Taeko Onishi, who co-founded the school with program director Jody Madell in 2007, dishes out high-fives and hugs to students. Onishi's desk is in a large open office that serves as a common area where both staff and students come to work during their free periods. Students call Onishi and all the other staff by their first names.
Lyons is a part of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, a group of schools exempt from administering all but the English Regents exam. Eleventh- and 12th-graders must complete PBATs (performance based assessment tasks) on topics of their choosing, which involve extensive research and reading as well as writing and presenting papers in English, math, history.
In all grades students participate in roundtable discussions at the end of each semester, where they reflect on what they learned and present their work for in-depth discussion.
Many classes are structured around themes. For instance, history offerings include classes such as world religions, global development and foundations in United States government and expansion; neuroscience and understanding animals are among the science options. English courses expose students to a broad range of literature by focusing on topic such as moral dilemmas, individualism, modern short stories and apocalyptic fiction. Math classes follow a more traditional sequence, running from algebra through pre-calculus. Computer science is offered as an elective.
A key part of student engagement is the school's field studies program. Students in grades 6 through 9 go on weekly excursions, such as to the Brooklyn Museum to study ancient Egypt. Onishi estimates that students go to The Metropolitan Museum of Art 50 times between 6th and 9th grades. Students in grades 10 to 12 may continue these field studies or take an elective at the school such as public speaking, forensics or zoology.
Onishi welcomes students who weren’t successful in other schools. To support those who arrive academically behind their peers, teachers aocus on helping kids to read difficult texts. All students have half an hour of independent reading each morning and the school offers small group support for struggling students. Classroom libraries are organized according to reading level rather than topic, and students are encouraged to challenge themselves when choosing books to read.
Lyons has high rates of chronic absenteeism and the school offers a range of programs to engage students who might be on the verge of dropping out. "We will do anything it takes to connect," Onishi said. For example, some struggling students take classes with two of the school's best teachers and in the afternoon, they participate in Urban Workshop, a program that focuses on community construction projects. There, students complete hands-on, practical work like building benches for a local park.
Teachers and staff use restorative justice practices, which aim to minimize suspensions and promote positive behavior through group conversations, reflection and corrective action. Discipline issues are often referred to the "justice panel," a group of students who determine the consequences of an action after questioning the offending student and other witnesses.
Lyons shares the old IS 49 building, including its gym, cafeteria and outdoor playground, with The Williamsburg High School of Arts and Technology and Brooklyn Latin. The three schools have separate lunch periods and arrival times. Students from all three schools may participate in campus-wide sports.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Lyons has integrated co-teaching (ICT) classes in every grade and dedicates a lot of time to students' social and emotional development through advisories and other initiatives.
ADMISSIONS: The middle school grades are open to Brooklyn and Queens students and residents with priority to those who sign in at an event. Roughly two-thirds of middle school students stay at Lyons for high school. The remaining seats are open to students citywide and admission is based on the educational option formula, which aims to mix students of different abilities. Lyons accepts transfer students. (Laura Zingmond, web reports and interview, October 2018)