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Brighter Choice Community School
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Warm, welcoming school with progressive practices
High rates of chronic absenteeism among a needy population
Brighter Choice Community School is a welcoming school in the heart of Bedford-Stuyvesant. Parents give the principal, Fabayo McIntosh-Gordon, high marks for bringing exciting programs to the school and creating a caring culture with high expectations for all.
The principalMs. Fabayo to both parents and studentsstudied at the Bank Street College of Education and is implementing an interdisciplinary social studies curriculum. "It's the commitment to more progressive styles of education that got me to Brighter Choice," a pre-k parent told us. "Ms. Fabayo is a smart manager who works intensely with teachers. She's incredibly personable and charismatic and very much invested in a culture of care."
The Bedford-Stuyvesant Parents Committee, an interracial group of parents working to re-invigorate neighborhood schools, picked Brighter Choice as a promising place to send their children. Their fledgling efforts have brought in a handful of middle class families to the pre-k program. Still, the school serves an overwhelmingly needy population and chronic absenteeism is high. About 30 percent of the students come from nearby homeless shelters. A social worker floats between classrooms; other supports include after school and Saturday programs. "They bring in issues that break your heart," the principal said. Every child gets a free gym shirt and polo shirt; sweaters are given as incentives to students who are trying hard or being good friends to one another, the principal said.
McIntosh-Gordon, raised in the neighborhood, hopes that her roots inspire her students to aim high. "I let my students know that I grew up around the corner on Greene Avenue," she said. "I have similar life stories to what they are experiencing now. I was a latch-key kid, but I was able to go away to college."
Even though the school doubled in size after merging in 2016 with Young Scholars, a tiny school that shared the building, the principal still greets every child by name, and they know her, running up with hugs when they see her in the hallways or classroom.
The pre-k classrooms were lively and inviting the day of our visit, with students singing as they got ready for family-style lunch. For their study on community, they took walks to the neighborhood laundry and firehouse and were preparing to dress up as community workers at their celebration. The children, too young to travel on school buses, had a "trip" brought to them; they were petting animals from a zoo in Pennsylvania.
Kindergarten and 1st grade dual languages classes presented Hispanic Heritage reports, transforming their classrooms into a museum. Children tasted food from different cultures. Instruction is in Spanish one day and English the next and there are plenty of books and resources in both languages.
Children go on frequent outings, delving deeply into social studies topics. For example, as part of a study of transportation, 2nd graders did research at the public library, saw the train show at the New York Botanical Garden and visited the Transit Museum.
Teachers use the Open Court reading program, focused on phonics. For writing, the Teachers' College method that emphasizes multiple drafts. A former math coach, McIntosh-Gordon uses the Go Math! curriculum and supplements it with hands-on manipulatives as well as frequent quizzes and drills.
The dual language Spanish-English program started in 2016 with kindergarten and 1st grade (with plans to add a pre-k in 2017). It has been hard to attract enough native Spanish speakers to the new program, the principal said; the 1st grade class had only 12 students when we visited.
The principal hired a fulltime gym teacher when she realized that children simply weren't moving. "These children don't know how to jump Double-Dutch," she said, recalling that it was one of her favorite activities growing up. Every PE class begins with a cardio-vascular work out and is followed by active sports such as hockey. Studio in a School offers art instruction and there are collaborations with numerous outside arts and other organizations.
Weekly community circle meetings feature shout-outs, songs and lessons about bullying. The principal cites the 2002 movie "Drumline" as an inspiration: "one band, one sound." We get the message to "be kind" a 3rd grader told us.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: There are two classrooms for students with special needs only and a SETTS teacher who offers supports services to students with IEPs. The school offers RTI (Response to intervention) to all at-risk students with learning or behavioral needs.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school but children from outside of the zone are regularly accepted. (Pamela Wheaton, November 2016)