New Bridges Elementary
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Welcoming new school with lots of arts, inclusive and structured environment
Tough to meet needs of all students in challenging population, test scores have a way to go
New Bridges elementary school takes some of the best practices from charter schools and adds in a healthy infusion of arts and understanding to create an organized atmosphere for joyful learning. Students use hand signals to applaud, repeat chants back to their teachers, and every morning begins with a 10-minute "Bright Start" meeting, where songs are sung, birthdays are remembered and children are honored for being good citizens. The whole school takes a guided breath together "to ground everyone before starting the day," the principal explained.
The school manages to marry the interests and vision of school founder Kevyn BowlesMr. Bto the students. His majors in college were theater and social justice. "The arts are a powerful tool for change," he said.
There are rooms and regular lessons for every art subject: visual arts, dance and musicand it is an inclusive environment for all students, none of whom are segregated into classes for special needs students only.
Many of the teachers and staffincluding the assistant principalpreviously taught at charter schools and appreciated some of the customs. The assistant principal said she "liked the structure and high expectations of charters but wanted a school that included the social-emotional and the arts and a more holistic approach."
Teachers begin the school year at least two weeks early for training to ensure that all follow consistent practices and understand the schools core value: "whatever it takes."
They follow established routines, beginning with the all-school Bright Start gathering and going on to morning meetings in the classrooms where students may recite their classs community code or follow the teacher in chanting instructions. The emphasis is on praise rather than punishment. Students who are well-behaved may be chosen to scoot ahead of others in line to enter the classroom; students who line up quietly, puffing up their cheeks for "blowing bubbles" rather than talking, may get an extra few minutes of recess on the playground.
"That was an awesome job walking to the carpet," one teacher said as she gathered students for the morning meeting. "Im looking for more friends who are ready. Students who are having a bad day seek out the "peace corner" in each classroom and work quietly by themselves before joining the class again.
The principal follows the school uniform code himself every day: wearing a red polo shirt or white shirt with a red tie and gray slacks. Hallways are freshly painted in yellow, highlighted by red doors. Each classroom is named after a role modelmany of them artists such as Duke Ellington or Malala. Third- and 4th-graders in the school orchestra performed at Carnegie Hall.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Faria praised the school after a visit in 2014. "Principal Kevyn Bowles has taken an integrated approach to the arts, allowing students to find their own voices and celebrate their accomplishments by performing for one another _. I was delighted to see a noisy, joyful celebration of childhood."
On our visit, we saw children who were happy to be there and adults who applauded the changes in the building since New Bridges opened in 2013 as a replacement school for PS 167, which closed due to poor performance.
"It was amazing," said a parent whose children attended the previous school in the building. "He [Mr. B] brought change and breath of fresh air into the community, with the arts and amount of affection."
The five pre-k classroomspraised by Faria as stellarare bursting with tools and toys. After the morning meeting and a mini-lesson based on a theme, children play. One day it was about water: A few played at the water table, while others pretended that doll babies were swimming on a bright blue sheet of water.
After pre-k, academics begin in earnest and corners for play disappear although children get regular art lessons and recess.
"Theres just so much to teach," said the principal, acknowledging that the students come in with a lot of academic gaps. There are many non-readers, he said. We still have a long way to go in terms of state testing scores."
New Bridges is now working with PS 249, one of the highest-achieving in District 17, to learn from that schools structure and particularly strong math program.
To avoid a noisy, crowded cafeteria scenario which in many schools leads to rowdy behavior, each grade has a separate lunch time. Kindergartners go out to play while 1st-graders eat, and then they switch. Even before letting them loose in the playground, the school staff lines up everyone until theyre ready to play and be safeyet another ritual.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Two out of three classrooms on each grade is an inclusion, ICT class with two teachers. New Bridges is very accepting of students with special needs. General education students in the ICT classrooms are generally high achieving, the principal said.
ADMISSIONS: New Bridges frequently has room for children outside the neighborhood. Many families have been priced out of the Crown Heights neighborhood and young newcomers dont yet have children. There is a lot of competition from nearby charter schools. Mr. B said he counteracts this by offering a robust arts program and an early start to the school day. About 60 percent of the students live outside the zone, some coming from as far away as the Rockaways or even the Bronx.(Pamela Wheaton, May 2016)Read more