Launch Expeditionary Learning Charter School
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Social justice focus and field trips
Math scores have room for improvement
Launch Expeditionary, opened in 2012, emphasizes teamwork, field trips and social action. After a bumpy first few years, the school has hit its stride with an even-handed approach to discipline, combined with lessons that mix basic skills and in-depth studies. The ethnically diverse teaching staff is upbeat, kind and creative; attendance is unusually high, and teens research and take action on causes they believe in.
The school year begins in August and the school day lasts about an hour longer than in traditional schools. Children wear uniforms and must tuck in their shirts. Teachers keep a tight rein on behavior during lessons with timers and points, but teens also chat easily in pairs and groups. All students prepare and present what they’ve learned to parents at conferences in the fall and to a wider group of invited guests in the spring.
As part of the NYC Outward Bound network, Launch Expeditionary sends new students on a weeklong wilderness trip that teaches teamwork, leadership and perseverance. Also known as Leader's High School, Launch uses a “crew” system, which is an advisory meeting of about 15 students who meet four days a week and stay together through their middle school years. This focus on personal attention helps attendance. “We try to love them a lot,” said executive director Geoffrey Roehm, who taught for six years and was an administrator at Wadleigh Secondary School in Harlem.
The school follows an approach known as EL Education. In addition to regular high school requirements, this includes a month and a half of field trips and projects built around things that are learned outside as well as inside the classroom.
For example, 7th graders look at gun violence from many angles. They study it from a health perspective in science, and read Chasing Lincoln’s Killer to think about motives and psychology behind acts of gun violence. They study the Second Amendment, talk to experts and write a persuasive essay. At the end of the unit they make digital posters and lead a community-wide anti-gun-violence demonstration.
“We want kids to realize they can have an impact on the world and on things that are meaningful to them,” said Roehm.
Some kids enter 6th grade reading at a 2nd or 3rd grade level. To help them catch up, the school divides classes into small groups where they can discuss themes and characters in books, such as William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Children are expected to read 50 books a year said an 8th grade student. “Literature must be all-encompassing,” said Roehm. “We want depth as well as skills, skills, skills.”
The school tries hard to challenge top students, for example, we saw six students in math working in a group with a teacher so they could go faster. A math class had been divided by gender to encourage more discussion.
Test scores remain below the citywide average but are better than the district average and rising in English language arts. Math scores remain flat. However, Roehm said a teacher left mid-year, affecting progress, and he thinks stability in the teaching staff will show positive results soon.
The after school program offers cooking, dancing, sports, acting, model car building, boat building and more.
The school takes care to offer good advice on high school admissions. Graduates attend Expeditionary Learning School for Community Leaders, Brooklyn Institute for Liberal Arts, The Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice and Williamsburg Charter High School, among others, in addition to parochial schools. About 20 children apply to specialized high schools.
Launch shares a building with PS 243.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Children with special needs are served in team-teaching classes or in two mixed-age “self contained” classes. Launch has a reputation for its willingness to serve teens with special needs.
ADMISSIONS: Lottery with preference to District 16 students. The school takes about 60 percent of its population from District 16 and 40 percent from other districts. (Lydie Raschka, November 2017)Read more