Brighter Choice Community School
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Warm, welcoming school with African dance, drumming, and gardening
High rates of chronic absenteeism
Brighter Choice Community School, in the heart of Bedford-Stuyvesant, has a welcoming atmosphere, engaged parents, and lots of extras such as African dance. It has a dual-language program designed to teach children both Spanish and English. It also offers classes for 3-year-olds, called 3K.
Jeremy Daniel, principal since 2018, comes in on Saturdays to skateboard with the children on the playground. Children grow vegetables in the school garden and learn about healthy food in a program called Edible Schoolyard.
Brighter Choice has an unusually active parent body. The PTA welcomes parents in September with a Saturday get-together at the Prospect Park Carousel, where children ride for free while their parents have a chance to mingle. A group called Fathers on a Mission encourages dads to be involved in their children’s education. The Wellness Committee offers zumba and yoga classes for parents and encourages healthy eating habits.
Founded in 2008 in the former PS 304 building, the school has long taken pride in the way it teaches African-American history and culture. During Black History Month, for example, children write reports not only about Martin Luther King, but also civil rights activists W. E. B. Du Bois, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Marcus Garvey; the inventor Garrett Morgan; and the athlete Jesse Owens. In the spring, children put on musical theater performances such as The Lion King. Year round, they learn African drumming.
When Daniel, who is white, replaced the school’s founding principal, Fabayo McIntosh-Gordon, who is African-American, some black parents feared the school’s culture would change. Daniel has worked hard to gain parents’ trust, giving his cellphone number to all, quickly learning every child’s name, putting in long hours after school and on weekends. His outreach seems to be working.
“He talks to us. He listens,” PTA president Takeesha Wright Sheppard, who is African-American, said of Daniel. She is confident the school can continue to honor African-American culture while also exposing children to other cultures.
Brighter Choice attracts a racially mixed student body from across District 16 and even out of district. It serves some children of professionals as well as many lower-income families who live in public housing. About 30 percent of the children live in homeless shelters nearby.
In a district with declining enrollments, Brighter Choice often has a waitlist for its 3K and Pre-K classes. However, class size in the upper grades is small—there were fewer than 15 children in several of the classes we visited.
The teaching techniques for reading and math are fairly traditional. The school uses basal readers, or textbooks with collections of stories, and the state’s EngageNY math curriculum.
Daniel says his goals are to introduce more project-based learning and to strengthen the dual language program. Parents have asked for more emphasis on Spanish in that program.
Like many schools that serve many children with unstable housing, the school has a high rate of chronic absenteeism. Daniel hopes the fun activities for children and adults will encourage children to come to school regularly. “If we open our doors and get families engaged, that will lead to higher attendance,” Daniel said.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: There are two classrooms for students with special needs only and one team-taught class (with two teachers and mix of general education pupils and special education pupils).
ADMISSIONS: Brighter Choice has regular tours for prospective parents. Children from outside of the zone are regularly accepted. (Clara Hemphill, October 2019)