Community Roots Charter Elementary School
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K-8, family-friendly progressive charter school that prizes diversity and inclusive environment
Elementary and middle grades housed in two separate locations not close to the subway
Community Roots is a richly diverse school that offers rigorous academics in a nurturing, inclusive environment.
Unlike more traditional charter schools, at Community Roots Charter School children sprawl out on rugs during reading periods and call teachers by their first names. Teachers refer to students as "friends" and students demonstrate that they have mastered a topic with projects and presentations, rather than tests.
Co-directors Sara Stone and Allison Keil, who founded the school in 2006, remain committed to their vision of educating children to be socially active, to treat one another kindly and to fight injustice. The school has almost equal numbers of black and white children with a smattering of Asians and Latinosan unusual mix in a city where many schools are racially segregated. Administrators are committed to increasing the number of low-income children who attend and, as result, have set aside 40 percent of kindergarten seats for residents of three nearby public housing complexes. "Diversity is our biggest strength and our biggest challenge. We're very mission driven," said Keil. "Our work has aligned more with our mission as we have grown."
Community Roots makes a big effort to build a sense of community with families who come from diverse backgrounds and different neighborhoods. Parents who bring their children to school may stay in the classroom to read to them. A variety of workshops for parents are held in a spacious family room. There are family cooking and sports programs, that are held repeatedly, not just one-off events like a multi-cultural potluck favored by many schools.
"We're not a neighborhood school, [so] we have to make school our community," said Sahba Rohani, director of community development. "We run cooking programs until 8 at night and do heavy recruitment to get [parents] to come."
Social studies is at the core of the curriculum. Kindergartners study families and every family comes in to share their stories.
The day of our visit, a kindergartner, her older brother, and parents were in the spotlight. The father, a chef of Korean heritage, taught the class how to make kimbaprice wrapped in dried seaweed(and eat it). They watched a slideshow of family photos and did spin artpaint on a spinning platformone of their classmate's favorite activities.
All classeseven science and arthave two teachers, one of whom is trained in special education. Teachers employ different strategies for children who fidget or struggle to stay still. "Let's take a walk," one teacher said to a child; another sat close to a child throughout a lesson. A late-arriving kindergartner sat at a small table eating breakfast while the rest of the class was gathered on the rug. A 5th-grader took a break to do jumping-jacks.
In a 3rd grade classroom, children were in reading groups with others of a like level and broke up into groups for math, doing different math worksheets. Some were paired with a partner. "I'm not very good at telling time," one girl told us. "She already knows so she's helping me."
Children are prompted to be nice to one another. "I want to remind you to use kind words to your partners," a teacher said. "Say it in a kinder way. Keep in mind that you have a shared purpose."
Community Roots has a school day that's longer than most. Children may arrive at 7:30 am for breakfast and classes run from 8:15 am until 3:45 pm.
Most elementary school graduates continue at Community Roots Middle School, located a five-minute walk away at 50 Navy Street in downtown Brooklyn.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Community Roots prides itself on its inclusive environment and enrolls students with various disabilities, ranging from dyslexia to children on the autism spectrum. Every class has two teachers, at least one of whom is trained in special education.
ADMISSIONS: Lottery, priority to District 13 and siblings of current students. Forty percent of the kindergarten seats are set aside for residents of three nearby housing developments. There are far more applicants than available seats, but Community Roots maintains a waitlist and accepts students at every grade level, as openings arise. A handful of seats open up in 6th grade for middle school. (Pamela Wheaton, May 2016)