I.S. 187 The Christa McAuliffe School
Academies geared to student interests, strong special education program
Confusing admissions policy, no full gym
Some of Brooklyn's brightest middle-school students fill three academies at IS 87 Christa McAuliffe. McAuliffe provides these children, many of whom go on to selective high schools, with a demanding academic program but also offers extracurricular activities, trips and electives to try to relieve the stress and keep students happy.
Students select an academy when they apply to the school in 5th grade and feel a sense of identification with it. Children in all three academies Scientific Research, Humanities, and Business and Law take the core academic subjects but the approach to the material varies among them. Students in the Humanities track, for example, take a more visual approach to material, incorporating artwork in their learning. Most classes stress projects and small group work.
Every academy has its own special classes, lunch period and three bands (one for each grade) as well as its own section of the building. Student artwork and murals decorate nearly every square-inch of plaster in the hallways and stairwells. Located in a building constructed as an elementary school, McAuliffe lacks a full-size gymnasium.
The school has a strong special education program, including self-contained classes for students with cognitive delays. These students run a cafe in the school that teachers can order food from and that caters some school events. They prepare the food, learn about money and also learn how to operate appliances. Children with disabilities in Integrated Co-Teachingclasses vastly outperform those in other schools on standardized tests.
McAuliffe has developed its own English curriculum aligned with the Common Core. Students read literature, including The Crucible in 7th grade and To Kill a Mockingbird in 8th. In a discussion arising from To Kill a Mockingbird, the class considered what factors determine whether or not a person takes a principled stand in the face of evil, such as a lynching. As students grappled with the issue, the teacher repeatedly challenged them to examine their responses more deeply.
McAuliffe uses a Pearson math program. Some, but not all, students take the algebra Regents in 8th grade. Eighth-graders can take a Spanish proficiency test.
The school has moved away from offering classes mixing various science disciplines in all grades and now offers Earth science in 6th grade, life science in 7th and physical science in 8th. Unlike many high-performing middle schools, McAuliffe does not offer a science Regents.
Teachers and the administration are trying out various technologies, including flipped classrooms where students learn a skill at home and then discuss it at school, rather than learning the lesson in class and answering questions about it at home. "Questions are key to what we do," says Principal Justin Berman. In some classes, children do an exercise online early in the evening, allowing the teacher to adjust the next day's lesson accordingly.
One of the school's biggest challenges, Berman says, is finding time for the academy electives, such as additional lab time, law and sports medicine, as well as art and music. The electives, such as a finance class where students plan a new business, clearly pique their interest. Some students in Scientific Research participate in a medical research program run in conjunction with the New York Academy of Medicine and Maimonides Medical Center.
McAuliffe brings in Holocaust survivors as part of its program to educate its students, most of whom are Asian, about the Holocaust. "They relate it to their own culture and background. It gives them a greater understanding of the world they live in," says Sarah Schmerler, a science teacher who plays a key role in the effort.
Many children attend private classes after school and on weekends. In light of this, McAuliffe tries to expose students to aspects of life outside the classroom with overnight trips and other activities. "Our kids are really good in academics but thats only part of the middle school experience," Berman says.
McAuliffe sends a large number of students to specialized high schools, particularly Brooklyn Tech and Stuyvesant. In 2013, all but three 8th-graders took the test for those schools, and 90 percent got admitted to at least one, with about one-third accepted at Stuyvesant.
Admissions: Selective. The school is open to residents in District 20, students currently attending a District 20 elementary school, or students outside the district whose zoned middle school is in District 20. Berman says the only way to not be admitted to McAuliffe is not to apply and that the Office of Student Enrollment not staff at McAuliffe determines who gets in. The reality, though, is that there are far more qualified applicants than available seats, and most slots go to high-achieving students. Admission is determined by a combination of factors making up a "composite score". The final 4th grade report card counts for 45 percent, state tests 45 percent, attendance five percent and punctuality five percent.(Gail Robinson, March 2014; admissions updated January 2015)
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