Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies
Accepts students of all skill levels and prepares them for college
Relaxed atmosphere and pace of instruction not for everyone
At Brooklyn School of Collaborative Studies, teachers encourage children to explore their own interests, to do independent research and to write the kind of long papers they'll need to do in college. The school has a good track record helping kids who may have weak academic skills persevere in middle school to prepare for high school and higher education.
The atmosphere of the school is relaxed. Students address the principal by her first name and some students wear hats or hooded sweatshirts in class. Rather than worrying about what children wear, BCS focuses on how the students treat one another. When there is a disagreement, gossip or hurt feelings, staffers lead the involved students, their families and advocates in a restorative circle that allows all voices to be heard. If we do this with the little problems, the big ones dont arise, says Scill (short for Priscilla) Chan, who became principal of BCS in 2014 after a number of years as director of the high school.
Part of the NYC Outward Bound Schools network of Expeditionary Learning Schools, BCS offers children the chance to learn outside of traditional classrooms. In sixth and ninth grades, students go on camping trips. In eleventh grade, they may have internships at law firms, the zoo, or a local television station. Students may check the pH and oxygen levels in the Gowanus Canal to see if it can sustain life (it cannot) or research topics like eminent domain at the controversial Barclays Center sports stadium.
In the classroom, children work almost entirely in groups and practice presenting their work to upper graders and parents who act as evaluators. Instead of taking the Regents exams in high school, BCS students must complete four Performance-Based Assessment Tasks (PBATs) for which they propose a topic, conduct independent research, and write a paper which they publicly defend to a panel of faculty, peers and visiting experts. A member of the senior class said that near the end of each semester, everyone stays after school nonstop to get it done, but by the end, it becomes a beautiful 20-30 page paper!
Every student belongs to a "crew," an advisory group of 12 students and one teacher, which takes its name from the schools slogan "We're all crew, not passengers." These groups meet daily for a half hour to build community and work together on the social-emotional development goals of the school.
The time BCS spends on cultivating research and teamwork skills may come at a tradeoff, though. State test scores for middle school math are far below average, which Chan attributes to the wide range of academic skills their incoming students bring. By the time they reach the upper grades, they are able to do rigorous, college-level research projects that she believes are a much better way for the students to demonstrate their mastery and potential. Chan works closely with two strong assistant principals, Amanda Boege who is the Lower Grades Director and Imani Matthews who is the Director of Student Affairs and Family Engagement to prepare them for this work and create rich learning experiences across the whole curriculum.
About 50-60 percent of the 8th graders stay for high school; those who leave have been accepted at top schools such as LaGuardia , Brooklyn Tech and Beacon .Electives include American Sign Language, LEGO Robotics, projectiles, paleontology, dance and a drama (with its own blackbox theatre led by a professional theater director). The school band, led by a conservatory-trained teacher, has traveled abroad to Italy and Denmark.
BCS was founded in 2001 as the upper school for Brooklyn New School and it shares a large, century-old building with that popular progressive elementary school.
Special Education: About 40 percent of students receive special education services. There is one self-contained class for children in the lower grades with high needs, but those students are mixed in with the rest of their grades for crew and electives. As those students get older, they are folded into Integrated Team Teaching classes, in which two teachers work together in a class that mixes special needs kids with those in general education. Two-thirds of the lower school classes offer ICT, but this percentage goes down in the upper grades as individualized schedules become harder to coordinate. High school students with special needs are given extra assistance with the organization and research skills required of them for their PBATs.
After School: BCS has an after school program run by the YWCA each night until 6 pm. Programming includes more LEGO Robotics, visual arts, ceramics, chorus, and step team. Other activities include a spoken word partnership with the Brooklyn Academy of Music and boatbuilding with Brooklyn Boatworks. Sports include girls and boys basketball, baseball, softball, boys soccer, and girls volleyball.
College Admissions: College counselor Josh Steckel works hard to find good matches for his students and build relationships with colleges who can look past the schools below average SAT scores to see the value of the PBATs. He makes sure that BCS students as young as 6th grade are beginning to envision themselves as college students and lifelong learners with experiences like alumni roundtables, discussions in crew classes, and a College Bound ceremony where the entire school cheers on the seniors as they walk to the mailbox to submit their college applications in December. The seniors all go on at least two college visits a year; on one such visit, students spent three days and two nights at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, observing and sketching birds with college scientists. Each year BCS helps train five to eight graduate students who are on hand to offer individualized help with applications, as well as transition support for alumni who need help with financial aid forms or tying up other loose ends.
The school has a strong record of college admissions as well as college retention. Graduates have attended Colby, Skidmore, Bard, Hampshire and Cornell. Some 84 percent of BCS students who begin college are still enrolled three semesters later, a figure that is much higher than other schools with similar students. Chan attributes this to the schools success in preparing students for the responsibility and self-direction required of them in their post-secondary work.
Admission: Middle school admission is generally limited to District 15. Prospective students are interviewed to see if they will be a good fit for the schools collaborative learning process. For high school, priority is given to current 8th graders and then to students who attend a tour of the school.
This school received a bronze medal in US News and World Reports 2014 Best High Schools.(Nicole Mader, September 2014).
About the students
About the school
Is this school safe?
About the leadership
About the teachers
Are students prepared for high school?
How many graduate?
Are students prepared for college?
How does this school serve English Language Learners?
How does this school serve students with disabilities?
Programs and Admissions
Students write frequently in all their classes. Teachers use critique protocols to improve understanding of the qualities of good writing. In all content areas, writing is used to deepen understanding, promote reflection, and synthesize what students know.
American Sign Language, French, Spanish
Boys PSAL teams
Baseball, Basketball, Soccer
Girls PSAL teams
Basketball, Softball, Volleyball