Brooklyn School of Inquiry
Challenging, progressive, arts-rich education; bright, beautiful new building; new diversity initiative
Demand far exceeds available seats, no lockers for middle school
Brooklyn School of Inquiry (BSI), a citywide gifted school, hasn't lost its progressive edge, innovative projects and welcoming atmosphere as it grows to become a full k-8 school.
The building has resources all city schools should have: traditional learning materials alongside abundant technology, a kid-scaled science lab and entire classrooms dedicated to block-building, science, music and studio art. Principal Donna Taylor, a former publishing executive, is directing her creative drive into Brooklyns first citywide gifted and talented school and building a beacon for rigorous, progressive education.
While children who qualify for seats at BSI must score extremely high on the citys G&T examand state exams plus high grades for middle school,Taylor's approach to education doesn't include drill work, memorization and overly burdensome homework.
The teachers, hand-picked by Taylor, are all certified in G&T education and have a strong voice in shaping the school. Parents pitch in too. Thanks to fundraising efforts--some $500,000 per year--most classrooms have two teachers: one experienced teacher and an assistant, often another teacher getting certification. Student teachers abound.
Teaching balances hands-on experiences and projects with plenty of academic content. Fifth-graders studying Marine Parks Salt Marshes and the Canarsie Indians who lived there were building a modern day dwelling that the Canarsie Indians might have imagined in their future, with the help of a professional architect.
The science lab is well-used and a STEM lab is being built on the roof to become a lab site for teachers all over the city.
Beginning in 4th grade, students have different teachers for math and humanities to capitalize on teachers expertise in one area, Taylor said. They see a homeroom teacher every day too.
The homework policy is humane. In kindergarten through 1st grade, homework is optional, assigned sometimes for targeted needs. "These kids need to play," said Taylor. "These are overbooked children."
Homework starts in earnest in 3rd grade four days a week and there is plenty of homework in middle school, the principal said.
Beyond academics, there is lots of time for the arts. All elementary students get violin lessons and outside organizations bring in music, theater and movement. Sixth-graders cycle through activities such as journalism, fine art, performing arts and documentary film-making. They decide what arts to concentrate on in 7th and 8th grade.
Class size is 25 in kindergarten but goes up to 32 in 1st through 5th grade. The principal says she doesn't keep it low because of the high demand for the school. The exception is a twice weekly advisory class in middle school which has only 10 kids. This gives them an opportunity to do social-emotional work in class and study skills, said Taylor.
Students call for Town Halls if there is something they are concerned about. For example, children lobbied to have independence at lunch and to encourage boys and girls to sit together at tables.
The school aims to build a solid, supportive culture with Tribes Learning Community workshops. Building a cohesive community is a challenge for a school that draws its students from many diverse neighborhoods, Taylor said. Students come from nearby Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Brighton Beach, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst, but several dozen come from downtown and brownstone Brooklyn, and a few trek in from Staten Island, and the Rockaways in Queens.
Parent engagement is formidable Taylor said, with spillover crowds at school information nights, full-force showings at parent-teacher conferences and robust fundraising that pays for special enrichments.
While BSI easily shares its building with the Academy of Talented Scholars and a District 75 school, the tiny, shared schoolyard is too small, a drawback for young children. Middle school students are allowed to go out of the building for lunch and frequently congregate in the city playground across the street, watched over by an assistant teacher. The building is bright and airy but there are no lockers so backpacks tend to line the otherwise attractive hallways.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: About a dozen children have one on one paraprofessional aides for challenges such as ODD (oppositional defiance disorder) or ADHD. The school also has occupational therapy, a guidance counselor and SETSS.
ADMISSIONS: All students must take the citys G&T test to qualify for admission. Most new students score 99, the top score, although siblings of current students can be admitted with scores of 98 or 97. In 2017, BSI became part of the city's diversity in admissions project, giving priority for 40 percent of kindergarten seats to children who qualify for free or reduced price lunch. The school's main entry point is kindergarten, with a few seats opening above that level as class size increases or families move. Current 5th-graders are given priority for middle school and competition for the remaining seats is stiff, with only about 10 6th grade seats. They are admitted according to District 20 middle school eligibility requirements. (Pamela Wheaton, October 2015; updated admissions 2017)
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